It’s true. I’m a sucker for any kind of fantasy meal. The more imaginative the ingredients, the more I love it. So, when I opened up the pantry last week to find out my next meal, I was pleased as punch to find The Kingdom Lights, which promised an imaginative world, magic, adventure, and all of that good stuff. Would it live up to my expectations or join the buffet table of by-the-numbers, mediocre meals out there?
Before we cut into this particular pie, let us read the Starving Review creed, etched in the stones of the kitchen floor:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible
Lights is a sterling example of a particular problem I have run into multiple times stuffing myself at the book review table. It is a meal that hints at tremendous imagination, a deep and abiding world lore, and has a macro plot that should be gangbusters good. The issue is that there is a serious disconnect at the expository and descriptive level to actually make this imaginative world live and for the plot at the micro level to have any real pop.
I will eschew my first review instinct to compare the plot and characters strongly with a much larger, more popular fictional cuisine line and focus on the real meat and potatoes here. There’s nothing being done particularly wrong here, but there’s nothing being done particularly well here outside of the core imaginative concepts.
The world’s cultures, faiths, and institutions are hinted at but never explored at any level, despite having an excellent plot device in place to provide some proper exposition. The fantasy races introduced, even though they comprise most of the cast of characters, receive minimal description at best. The magic of the world, one of its key plot points, isn’t even explained at all until about two-thirds of the way through the book and, even then, there are two major forms of magic told to us multiple times that is never given a lick of explanation. We don’t know what’s possibly on the menu, we aren’t given any rules for dining, and we don’t even know what the other people at the table really look like. It turns a meal with hints of many exotic spices into a bland dining experience.
This lack of focus extends to the characters themselves. Outside of the main protagonist, who even then feels considerably generic, the rest of the characters, outside of one who steals the meal at the climax, feel more like tools in the plot. When they are needed, they are automatically in scene and moving the plot and, when they aren’t, they disappear once again. Again, though, there are maddening hints that if you sat the chef down for a talk and asked him about these characters, he would be able to tell you hours of information about these people, but not a drop of that permeates into the flavors of the meal itself.
It may seem I’m being very critical. Other than the fact that I am, it comes down to seeing something that could be so great, so imaginative, and has flashes of true brilliance (again, the twist in the climax was really great at times) fall so flat at the end. It’s not a bad book … it’s cleanly written if a little weak in some of its narrative and the core principles and ideas are very solid … it just comes so short of its potential and it is maddening!
In summation, The Kingdom Lights has the hint of exotic spices and imaginative ideas, but tumbles into being a mediocre, standard fantasy meal. If you are a devoted fantasy fan, you might consider picking this up eventually, when you have nothing more pressing to read. If you aren’t a fantasy fan, there’s nothing particularly worth your time here. I hope the chef takes this to heart and does a full revision on this tale, because I would love to see it reach its full greatness.
FINAL VERDICT: *** (A book with the hint of exotic spices and imaginative ideas, but tumbles into being a mediocre, standard fantasy meal.)