This is a Spoiler Free book review of the first published version of the first book in the “The Tales of the Gatherers” series, “The Gatherers and the Illness of the Isle*”, by Alex J. Eisman.
Disclaimer: I only read around 35% of this book before DNF-ing it (not finishing it), because I could not get past the internalized sexism. I was gifted this book by the athor in exchange for an honest review. The author and I have been in conversation for a while now, and he has disclosed on his blog that he will be republishing this novel with some corrections in light of reader reviews and his own research. He has also published a post on his blog detailing his experience learning about internalized sexism and racism.
My review is of what I read in the original publication and is not an attack on the author. My criticism is honest and with the intention of constructive feedback, which is what the author asked for. These are my personal opinions, so please formulate your own opinion of the book. Reading is subjective.
An epic fantasy with princes, light magic, mythical creatures, a secret society, and commentary on social and economic inequality.
Internalized sexism, infantilization of women, general combat violence, poverty, and more.
There is hope…
Under the rule of the Isle’s Voice, the people of Aeris suffer from a jarring divide between the wealthy and impoverished. The Isle’s Voice controls the distribution of immersia, a magic that keeps bloodthirsty monsters known as the vayle away from Aeris’s people. Laborers slave to do the jobs allotted to them while privileged families remain in control.
When young Aselle Attete, a laborer in the great city of Aurora, hears a mysterious song in the desert that surrounds her city, a series of events unfolds that proves there is hope of salvaging Aeris. With the help of a group calling themselves the Gatherers, Aselle embarks on a journey to level Aeris’s class system, bring equality to the rich and poor alike, and build a new world free of the vayle’s presence.
In the process, Aselle chases a destiny that has been waiting for her since her birth. Along the way, she will uncover secrets about her past and her future… if the many dangers that pursue her do not kill her first. – Amazon Synopsis
My Rating: (2.14/10)
This plot driven story features a group of men and one woman (girl?) on their adventure to save the world and dismantle the social structure of their society. This is not a character-driven story. The characters are fairly two dimensional with broad strokes of surface level personality. It is hard to relate to any of these characters, and some are even straight up unlikeable, but they are not really the focus of this epic. Additionally, their relationships with each other are muddled and not a strong suit in the story. Characters just know each other and their reactions to one another are not really explained, so it is up to the reader to just accept things as they are without question. Lastly, the main character is naturally very powerful and adept at the light magic from the moment she is introduced to it. This is not a story where the characters have to earn their abilities, but one where the heroine is in a way the “chosen one”. If you tend to like the chosen one trope, then this story will likely satisfy that desire. The main character is obviously intended to be a strong, naturally gifted magic user, who will prove all of the men wrong, which would be perfect had she shown any agency for herself.
As a woman, I did not identify with any of the characters, and I felt like a brick wall of the masculine mind blocked me from enjoying this story. Although, I know that some readers will be able to enjoy and even relate to this perspective. All of the masculine characters in this story are cookie cutter dudes with stereotypical “masculine” ways. The only woman character (who is supposed to be the main character), is a doormat of a woman with zero agency who just did anything the men said and never demanded explanation from those around her. Additionally, her age and maturity are muddled. I can’t tell if she’s supposed to be mature or childlike (although, I believe she is at least of child bearing age, so a teenager at least, which makes her older than she acts most of the time). I just feel like a fantasy about classism didn’t need to replicate the sexism and toxic masculinity of our world, because it’s a fantasy, which means it’s not the real world.
The world that Eisman has created is familiar (in a good way), yet unique in its magic system. The use of different types of light beings for magic is highly intriguing, though not thoroughly explained in a way that makes it easy for the reader to understand. The magic system seems to get more attention and become more clear as the story progresses and the main character comes into her abilities. Even though the writing in this novel is dense, it may not be considered immersive by most readers. This story is very much written with a clear focus on the plot and magic system.
I had a hard time feeling part of this world, and was not immersed in the atmosphere. This isn’t always a bad thing, because some books are not meant to be all immersive. If you want a book that is almost exclusively atmosphere and immersive writing, then read anything by Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus* or The Starless Sea*).
This book has quite decent writing for a debut. It does have some continuity issues in terms of physical scene, and there are certain scenes that felt like filler. But all things considered, this isn’t the worst out there.
Of note, the dialogue is quite patchy with holes in conversation and a lack of justification to the reader about why characters do and say certain things. A lot is left open ended, and some of it is even seemingly random to a reader who doesn’t know these characters other than what context the author provides.
Lastly, the narrators voice, the writing, and the overall crafting of this story feels as though it is trying to impersonate the voice of another. And it is not doing a great job at being someone else. The style shifts around at times and feels like it is not the author’s true voice, but instead a mimicking of another’s. Not to mention that this book is almost entirely exposition with dialogue sprinkled throughout and a dash of action. And a lot of telling the reader things as opposed to showing them. Hopefully, as the author gains more experience, he will refine/solidify his own writing voice and smooth out some of these wrinkles.
There is definitely room for improvement in the writing, and it will be interesting to watch as the author refines his craft and grows as the series continues.
I had a very hard time finding a reading flow during my reading sessions with this book. You know when you are reading, but get so immersed in the story that you don’t even realize you’re reading anymore. That groove never came to me while reading this book. I was pulled out of the story every few sentences, and I can’t really pin why.
Keeping in mind that this review is only covering the first 30% of this novel, the plot seems to be the main focus of the story, and is the strongest aspect of this piece. The things happening in this book are interesting and keep the story moving along, while the setting and characters tag along for the ride.
This is not a revolutionary plot, but it is in line with the epic fantasy genre. The heroine is suddenly part of a group trying to go on this big mission to save the world and society, and the main character discovers her natural proficiency at the magic system. This book reads like a classic, action-focused epic fantasy, and there is nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you’re looking for.
The plot is the thing that kept me reading as far as I did. I wanted to know what would happen in the journey and how things would end, but the other major issues in this novel were too glaring to keep me reading to find out. I still may go back to skim the last portion of the book, just to find out how it ends.
The magic system in this world is quite intriguing, and exploring all of its eccentricities could be very intriguing as the series progresses. There is a lot of content packed into this epic, with a heavy focus on a moving plot and a journey to tear down the world’s social structures. Although this book takes place entirely in the present plot, the reader is beginning in the middle of the story when the plan has already been hashed out and the characters already know each other. This is a “learn as the plot progresses” kind of story with a lot of exposition for context, which is not uncommon for the genre.
Of all the aspects of this story, the plot and magic system will likely be what keeps the readers engaged. Although, this may change as the story progresses in future installments.
The plot had me intrigued, but I personally felt nothing for the characters or the world. And my interest in the plot wasn’t “keep me up all hours of the night to finish” worthy, but I would say I occasionally remember the beginning of the story and wonder what happens.
This is not a realistic story where the characters have to earn their abilities, but one where the heroine is in a way the “chosen one”. If you like that trope, then this book may be worth giving a shot, if you can get past the other aspects of this book that may not be ideal for some readers.
I am personally not a fan of the chosen one trope, and I much prefer when characters have to suffer and work hard for their abilities. There is no way that I, an average person with average abilities, will ever just suddenly be super powerful, because most people have to work hard and earn what they have. So, I personally find the “chosen one” trope, in most cases, to hinder my ability to relate to the main character. Watching flawed characters fight for what they want and claw their way to success (like we have to), gives the reader something to connect with. On the other hand, I fully acknowledge that a lot of people really enjoy the idea of suddenly coming into greatness or just enjoy the trope in general. That is a perfectly valid opinion, and I respect that. I am glad people enjoy it, because it is fairly popular.
A great example of a character who has to work hard and suffer for his abilities would be Fitz Chivalry from The Farseer Trilogy* by Robin Hobb. I adore Fitz, he is a realistically flawed character, and I relate to his character more than I relate to most other main characters that I’ve encountered. But again, that is just my personal opinion.
There were several foundational aspects of this novel that I found intriguing, especially in the first few chapters, but overall there were some glaring pitfalls that kept me from really enjoying the first printing of this book. I am happy that Eisman will be fixing some of these issues and republishing the book, but I don’t know that I will be continuing with the series, given that many of my qualms lie in the main characters. Not every book will be for everyone, and that is okay. There is someone out there (or many someone’s) who will love this series, and that’s one of the beautiful things about books.
Thank you for checking out this review! If you enjoyed this piece, please consider checking out my other recent review for the YA Dark Fantasy Novel Incendiary!
-Knight of Cups ❤
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