Jen reviews An Ocean of Others, the first book in Joshua Scott Edwards‘ fantasy series, Dance of the Sibling Suns.
Disclaimer: the author has entered An Ocean of Others in SPFBO 9 but this review has nothing to do with the blog group that the book fell into. It only contains Jen’s personal opinions. If and when it advances to the finals, this review will be reused with an additional official score.
|Dance of the Sibling Suns #1
|Date of Publishing:
|September 5th, 2022
|death, body harm, torture
REMEMBER WHAT’S REAL OR YOUR HEAD WILL BE THEIRS
Survival is never easy, but it’s never been harder for Grim, the last bounty hunter in Liwokin. He survived the Great Riot that killed Liwo by the thousands, endured the bloody chaos that ruled the city in its aftermath, and avoided the crushing fist of the Agency created to quell the unrest. Rule of law returned, but following the rules doesn’t put food in your belly.
On a job gone wrong, Grim stumbles into a conspiracy that targets Ulken, the Head of the Agency, a man who has done more to ruin Grim’s life than any other. Struggling to earn honest coin, Grim plans to use this information to rise quickly through the ranks of the organization so an empty purse never worries him again. He becomes a Finger of the Agency, joining a sardonic ranger, two fugitive siblings, a stone-skinned Skardwarf, and a powerful dark mage—none of whom know any better than Grim what they’ve gotten themselves into.
Grim’s Hand soon discovers the Agency’s furtive work is far deadlier than hunting bounties. While fighting to save his home from monsters who once were men, Grim discovers the conspiracy runs deeper than just Ulken and the Agency—what was unleashed is spreading, and if Grim’s sanity doesn’t prevail, it will consume the minds of the Bright Empire and beyond.
“Muscular legs sheared from animals I could only guess at—several with long, sharp blades for claws—bore the bulk of Lomin’s weight, thick pillars sunk into a ground that writhed with something unseen. The other limbs slapped ineffectually at the dirt, vestigial forms that seemed to serve no purpose but to unnerve me with the sight of twitching, alien motions. The body of this abomination bespoke the fate of all the animals missing from these woods. It had hunted them all itself. This Benefactor was the apex predator of these Shaded Grounds, the king whom we had come to dethrone.”
Not Afraid To Die by Written by Wolves
The combination of Joshua Scott Edwards’ promo efforts on Twitter and An Ocean of Others’ stunning cover really paid off because I pre-ordered this last spring, with every intention of dropping everything to read it as soon as it was released. That plan went well.
An Ocean of Others is an incredibly solid debut. Based on one of the author’s own group of friends’ tabletop games, the book has that core D&D/Forgotten Realms feel with the setting, various races, magic, and a story that takes a dip into that darker side of humanity.
The world, recovering from an event called the Great Riot has an early industrial feel to it. The story takes place mostly in the city of Liwokin, with travel to some of its surroundings.
Some things were a bit loose feeling in the groundwork and outside of the Twin Suns, I didn’t find it much different than most of these sorts of settings. But I was fine with that, because I liked where the story focused the bulk of its attention way more than explaining to me all those parts that I was probably going to skim over anyway.
The Gathering of our Group
Grimely (Grim) is a bounty hunter, one of the last in the city. Work is scarce for him now that The Agency was formed and things that Grim used to be paid to do, the agency does for free. Effectively pushing him out of a job.
When a piece of evidence hinting at a conspiracy within the Agency falls into Grim’s hands. He and Inac (the mage) decide to enter the ranks and warn the Head of the Agency (Ulken) of the dangers. But their goals aren’t as pure as they sound, as they’ve chosen to withhold the information until a moment that will quicken their advancement up the ranks.
It’s at the Agency where we join up with the rest of our team of adventurers. The usual D&D suspects – ranger, dwarf, paladin, mage – each with the author’s own spin on them. Called the 64th hand, all teams are made up of five members (fingers) with the occasional shifting of members as needed.
The Agency works like a body, and the naming conventions were all body parts that correspond to their jobs – with everything from the nerves to the fingers and heels. Heels are the lowest, of course, and the organs keep the operations running. I thought they were all a lot of fun, while also being quite appropriate to their jobs.
We only have a single POV for this story which I was rather surprised about since nearly all I’ve read in this D&D style, have had multiple.
Though I had a small complaint, that while we do get to know our main character Grim, pretty well, I found the rest of the team – other than the dwarf, and Inac, until around part three – were as interchangeable as some of the minor characters. Interestingly enough, the characters that really stood out for me (outside of Grim) were the Benefactors. I’ll talk more about them in a bit.
Despite that complaint and wishing for a bit more build in the team characters, I did think single POV was an excellent choice for this story, considering the events and the way they affect the characters – it made them more impactful than they’d have been otherwise.
The story is told in parts – each section’s mission or campaign, builds the events and broadens the world.
Part one is like a fun little sample of what to expect, introduces us to the world, how it works, and its characters.
Part two reveals the clues, deepening the mystery, and includes some very cool battles.
Part three rolls it all together. Everything we learn falls into place with an epic battle to make it all worth the while.
I have to say, the fight scenes were freaking awesome! They were probably some of the most creative and atmospheric scene settings I’ve read in a while; managing to induce dread, sadness, and a warped sense of reality (and not be confusing as heck) while still being fun. The number of emotions I went through while reading these… I can’t even explain. I liked these a lot.
I’m torn on whether the battle with the Hunter was the coolest, or if it was, the whole sequence leading up to the finale, with the overlayed illusion of the city and forest!
What helped to make these scenes extra-special (outside of that cool-as-heck scene-setting) was The Benefactors.
So, The Agency was formed to address these Benefactors. They are monsters/creatures that emit an Aura that force people to experience these strong emotions. Emotions that affect judgment and reality of those around them….and I had a big long enthusiastic explanation here, that I realised after was just a bit spoilery so I had to rewrite, removing the bigger spoilers (and some of my excitement).
Anyway, there are items that help dampen the effects of the Aura’s influence on a person – stones or herbs that can be inhaled but they’re in short supply and must be used sparingly.
For reasons I can’t tell you about, the memories/thoughts of the Benefactors that Grim meets, stay in his mind, making for those very cool moments in battle that I mentioned above.
I am not one who cares to sympathise with the villains, I tend to just enjoy rooting for evil to be squashed, but this whole thing with the shared memories really worked for me.
It added this whole other level to the story, and the fight scenes, and I loved how the story fed those moments in bits and pieces; keeping me curious about the events, keeping me emotionally attached, and also wondering how our team would survive.
I found it also helped in adding variety to each of the battles, so they didn’t feel as repetitive as they sometimes can when there is a campaign factor in the base of the story.
I’ve read a few books that have been based on D&D campaigns and I find they generally are a lot of fun but not always as adept as I’d like in certain areas of the writing as An Ocean of Others proved to be – especially when it came to those battle scenes. I’m very curious to see Edwards‘ next book because this one was just a great read.
An Ocean of Others was a fantastic story – creative, fun, and with a surprisingly emotional element. I enjoyed this one a lot.
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