Mordew – Alex Pheby (a review)

This isn’t going to be much of a review, I’m afraid – tis the season to be jolly and all that, which (for me) means sitting by the fire for me and having a good auld read.

Part of my reading list this Christmas is (was) Mordew by Alex Pheby.

I’m going to write this without any spoilers, for the simple reason that Alex Pheby has designed the story to unfold in complete mystery, and I’m going to try and respect that intention.

Honestly, I don’t like writing negative reviews of books (I have in the past – to generate clicks – but they never sat right with me, so I’ve given up the negative voice), so I’ll just be totally upfront about the principal problem I have with Mordew – there are too many twists and not enough turns.

With fantasy, and this is no spoiler to any fan of the genre, the greater part of the puzzle in creating a clear and compelling story is in creating a clear and compelling world. The reader needs to be able to see, hear and feel as the characters do – often in worlds that differ greatly from our own.

Unfortunately, with Mordew, I can’t honestly say I have a clear picture of the city where the story (mainly) unfolds or the characters involved – I read the book over the course of the last two evenings, but if you were to ask me now to describe the physical features of any of the cast, I’d do well to give you many details beyond their gender.

Then there is the issue of time; from page one to finish, I just have no concept of how long it takes for the story to unfold. I always underline this point because a clear sense of time is such a pickle to create within the readers mind, and that goes double for FantSci writing, where so much focus, and word count, needs to be devoted to building a world.

I totally need to put my hand up here and say that it’s possible my criticisms could actually be the result of style choices made by the author (rather any failing of skill).

A.P. makes it clear on page one that you will be experiencing the plot from the point of view of the protagonist and the confusion he feels you will feel, and you will exist in the world of Mordew with only the protagonists experiences to draw on.

Fair enough – if my criticisms were/are deliberate style choices, who am I to say they were wrong. Personally, I’d have gone a different way, but as I run through the underlying theme of the book (way too many potential spoilers – apologies) I can certainly see the argument for keeping the reader blinded, and there absolutely is a lot about Mordew that’s worth reading (especially if you’re already a lover of the FantSci genre)

The use/type of magic is particularly interesting, and there’s a certain amount of originality to the approach that A.P. takes, which must have taken him a great deal of thought and obvious ability to develop with such consistency.

Then there are the highlights of the books – the action sequences, I suppose you could call them – and when Mordew is good, it is very good; the story seems to switch from Black and White to Ultra HD (or whatever the fancy TV specs are now) and you really feel as though you’re right in the middle of a story (rather than just a Bookworm looking down).

The word highlights came to me just now, and that’s a good way of thinking about Mordew as a whole – it’s like watching the highlights of a football match (or any sport), you get to see all the goals and talking points clearly, but the rest of game is left on the cutting room floor, with extra space left for advertisement breaks.

When reading Mordew, you get all the talking points – but you also get the frustrating breaks, that just kill momentum of the book as a whole.

Note: Mordew is scheduled to be the first part of a trilogy – every criticism I’ve raised above could be remedied by book 2 and 3 (or if Mordew had been 300 pages longer), as the fleshing out of the world continues and the characters (particularly their motivations) develop.

I’ll certainly read book 2 when it’s released (I have Malarkoi on the rolling list I check every 6 months); Mordew is definitely good enough to make the FantSci reader in me hope the wider trilogy will develop to become a great of the genre.

Totally feel free to DM me on Twitter if you’ve read Mordew and want to exchange some deeper thoughts on it.

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