Book review

Review: Windcatcher – AJ Norfield


386 pages| LowSea Publishing| Fantasy

The digest: a slow-paced novel which unfortunately didn’t live up to the hype.

Another negative review I’m afraid. TLDR: story is unoriginal and lacks distinguishing features. Could be a good YA read but anyone expecting much more than that will be disappointed.

Windcatcher is the first novel in a series (The Stone War Chronicles) which focuses on a young male protagonist as he befriends a dragon, never really too sure of what is going on or how he is able to achieve what he does. Sound familiar? That is because Windcatcher doesn’t seek to subvert the usual genre norms but in fact employ them to create a… mishmash novel.

Evil general trying to subvert the ruler’s word? Check. Simplified worldbuilding with too little info for anything much to have an impact? Check. A cast of characters I don’t really care about due to their lack of individuality? Check and check. Unfortunately, this novel plays on too many over-familiar fantasy tropes without the great pay off at the end (or consistent quality throughout) to keep me interested.

What did I like about this book? There are a couple of interesting examples of in-world technology which were rather well-executed and really did add to the overall story, and there is one solid use of magic/ magical being which really interested me. The problem with both of these (but especially the latter) is how little part overall they play – the magical creature should (I feel) have played a much more fundamental role in the story due to how much it is focused on during the earlier passages.

Furthermore, there is a fair amount of intrigue at the very start and very end of the novel, where I really did not know what was going to happen. The beginning, in particular, had me hooked and ready to dive into a new epic fantasy setting. Sadly, that isn’t what followed.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Windcatcher was how the main body of the novel departed from the opening pages so much. These scenes focus on an Asian-inspired monastery which is home to a magical artefact of sorts and has heaps of intrigue – who are the good guys in this situation? The winners? Why is this all happening now? A very promising start (at least as far as the narrative is concerned) followed by a rather basic and predictable remainder. During the brief time spent with the monks, I was truly engaged with (if a little confused by) the plot.

The characters were all a bit too bland for my liking and lacked even the most basic of personality traits. When the odd one had something untoward happen to them, I struggled to care at all. The events of the story were stretched too thin over the cast, and I feel like the author would have benefitted from cutting his rag-tag squad in half. The main character and his dragon (the presence of which is not a real spoiler) have a weird connection from the off and it jarred the flow of the story massively. I felt like this instant relationship was cheap and relied on the reader just accepting the novel’s words on face value, something I struggled with here. The cast are just not memorable, so much so that from the past five books I have read, it is the characters of Windcatcher which I remember the least, even though it was by far the longest.

The worldbuilding left a lot to be desired, with familiar geography and dragon-related lore (given to the reader just at the right time for everything to make sense – again poor literary technique) again lacking any unique sense of self. There is nothing at all to separate this storyworld from any other that I have read, and I am not too sure how some reviews disagree with this. I understand that everyone has their own opinions, but comparing this work to something original like Tolkien, satirical like Pratchett, or even well-executed like Sanderson demonstrates how this book is lacking. To improve in this aspect, I would advise the author to spend more time developing the world’s history in his own mind before trying to paint such a broad canvas as he does here. Of course, no author needs to do as much work as Tolkien, but I am a firm believer that the better an author knows his world, the easier it is for him (or her) to convey the importance of the plot to the reader. The author seems to have half thought out his world and wants to convey as much of this limited information as possible as exposition, and it really slowed down the overall pacing.

Speaking of writing style, the continued forced exposition was matched with over-explained fight scenes where it feels as if every movement is being described – another jarring aspect. Furthermore, there are a fair few examples of ‘as luck would have it’ or ‘luckily [insert action which benefits the protagonist]’ etc. – the writing style reinforces a sense of passivity on behalf of the core team. There is suddenly a good thing happening to them, or a character has re-appeared as if by magic, or the dragon saves the day etc. I can often see the effect that the author is trying to pull off, but often the execution is less than satisfactory.

Will I be recommending this novel or reading its sequels? Probably not. For me, the narrative never really proved why it was worth my time – never did it make me laugh or cry, never was I really interested in what was going on. It’s a shame as I do enjoy reading about dragons and traditional fantasy setups, but here I was just left feeling as if the author needed at least one more re-write and edit before publishing the story. 1.5/5 rounded to 2 on Goodreads.

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