Friday, April 5, 2013

REVIEW: The Last Grand Master by Andrew Q. Gordon

The Last Grand Master (Champion of the Gods, #1) The Last Grand Master by Andrew Q. Gordon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story began with a blast of urgency. In the first couple chapters, our hero rode a unicorn, teleported while riding a unicorn to get there faster, swung killer magic to get through an army of bad guys, kicked some asses, — *takes a deep breathe* — rescued a surrounded party of allies leading to more ass kicking, discovered his soul mate, more magic, contributed majorly to the evacuation of a doomed kingdom, accepted his soul mate, more magic, more ass kicking, and finally when they finished evacuating, bombed the entire place to kill the bad guys who were rushing in. Bam! *exhales*

In short, the beginning = awesomesauce.

I was reluctant to read The Last Grand Master because it didn't have anything that specifically appeals to me other than the fact that it's a fantasy with a mm-romance subplot. I expected the book being fantasy that the "good parts" weren't going to kick in till late in the story. The book proved me wrong, obviously.

+ the plot

The plot eventually slowed down, and things were going well. That is till around the second quarter of the book when it took a sharp turn for melodrama. The good news was that the plot limited the melodrama within a chapter. The bad news was that every and now then there would be a chapter reeking of melodrama. The writing seriously needed to apply the art of subtext; the dialogue can be stilted and maudlin sometime.

The plot was long winded and lost some of my attention, especially towards the end where most of the melodrama resided. Not until the climax in the last quarter did my attention was regained and held at the level it was in the beginning.

+ the hero

The main reason for the melodrama was Farrell, the hero. Every time he talked about his sad past, he did it an overly emotional, drawn out, info-dumping way. It always felt contrived and absurd instead of heartbreaking as intended. Other than that, I had no problem with Farrell and his other flaws, which included a handful of insecurities.

Farrell was unabashedly a Gary Stu, and I loved it. He was a prince, a king (dual-titled if you will), a hero, a chosen one, and a grand master-level wizard (one out of the living two, the other being Meglar). He has a bond with a unicorn, and not just any unicorn, but with Nerti, queen of the unicorn. He has a soul mate, and not just any soul mate, but with Miceral, warrior prince of the Munchari race. You get the point. I really liked that the hero never hesitated to unleash his abilities to the fullest unlike so many countless, countless Urban Fantasy protagonists I have read about.

Farrell was not the bad kind of Gary Stu because he was actually competent and he did have limits, believe it or not. His Gary Stu-ness also doubled as an issue because the poor guy tried to do everything because people looked to him to fix their problems, which usually led him to overextend himself and acquire injuries and take perceived failures, especially where deaths were concerned, hard in the heart.

I liked that in spite of being a super wizard Farrell still had a lot to learn and wanted to learn. I liked that he didn't completely depend on magic for everything and realized magic had its limits; dude took martial art training. What I loved best about Farrell was that he was smart and sensible, how self-aware he was of his status and limits, which he sometime ignored so he could help people.

In short, hero = Gary Stu, but not stupid.

+ the romance

Despite being insta-love and rather cheesy, I thought the romance was good. What I liked best was how uncomplicated it was, how easily and quickly the two adjusted to each other. I didn't doubt their love. Speaking as a fan of smut, I was a little disappointed that the sex happened off page. But hey, the story was a fantasy, not a romance, so I got the point.

Anyway, I really liked that in this fantasy world same-sex relationships were a non-issue/normal, barring that odd chapters-length subplot of a minor character coming out. Speaking of which, while that subplot ended happily, the heir issue remained unresolved. It also pulled the issue of heirs from the back of my mind to the front. It was already in the back of mind because Farrell and Miceral were princes. Shouldn't the issue of heirs come up, particularly when each, as far I know, didn’t have any siblings or relatives to be backups...?

Thankfully, the issue was not a glaring kind because the two have an abnormally long life expectancy so there is more than enough time to figure it out.

+ the world building

The world was developed in many places, but where it concerned Haven, the Big Bad, and the gods it tripped. I like that Farrell welcomed every refugee to his kingdom, Haven, but I found it hard to believe that Haven would have enough resources to house and feed everyone. Not to mention jobs; idle hands are the devil's playground. I also found it hard to believe that every refugee from many different kingdoms of many different cultures would get along easily, especially when some of those refugees were nobles and surviving royals. Yeah, right. Haven was treated like it was fucking heaven and everyone kumbaya-ing.

The Big Bad was Meglar, your Evil Wizard Lord stock villain who is bent on world domination. Meglar's character development was shallow, but I didn't take issue — yet — because in book 1 he haven’t make an appearance, so far only by quick-to-be-defeated faceless proxies. In the next book, I hope there will be answer as to why the gods, six of them in total, can't simply throw a lightning bolt at the dude and kill him already.

Speaking of the gods, I didn't like how much trust Farrell placed in them even though in book 1 everything they had done had been good and timely. Farrell was asking for a world of hurt if he thought the gods always planned with his best interest in mind, or for any mortal for that matter; the thing about pursuing the greater good is that it always demands sacrifices. Anyway, the gods weren't any more developed than Meglar. They were good guys because they were good guys.

In Conclusion

I rate The Last Grand Master 3-stars for I liked it. The book lost some steam in the middle of the book, but I still enjoyed the story. If you're in the mood for a non-thinking, linear fantasy and want a hero who can already kick ass and succeed instead of waiting for book X of series Blah for the hero to attain competency, try out the book. If only some of the qualities of this book would transfer to the Urban Fantasies I read...

My favorite part was the fact that the Farrell and Miceral each bonded with a unicorn. Gay guys riding on unicorns, there should be more of that. Just saying.

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