The Hidden Masters of Marandur by Jack Campbell

I have to admit, something just isn’t working for me with this series. Everything feels manufactured – plotted to within an inch of its life and so lacking in realistic pathos as to be nearly inert. Instead of rooting for the characters and their romance, I was bored and really tired of being hit over the head with the same points over and over (e.g., Mari misunderstanding Alain, Alain incessantly professing his undying love, and hey, yes the guilds are evil, we can figure that out). With a wild train chase, attack by both a dragon and a roc, and a grand army battle, this should have been far more interesting and intriguing than it was.

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Story: Alain and Mari have separated so their guilds don’t consider them rogue for their friendship. But it soon becomes clear to both that they are being assigned suicide missions. Remaining separate soon becomes a far more dangerous proposition as they are targeted ruthlessly by their guilds.

This book two features a *alot* of rumination and the characters’ somewhat slow and dimwitted understanding of the true nature of their situations. Endless discussions of ‘does he/she love me or not?’ was off-putting and compounded a serious issue through these first two books of endless repetition of the same points. It’s a problem with most of Jack Campbell’s books, sure (try a drinking game where you take a shot every time ‘relativistic’ is explained in the Los Fleet books, and you’ll be drunk soon). Even when the action was happening, I felt as unengaged as supposedly emotionless mage Alain.

There should have been something really good here – the worldbuilding is excellent and the writing sharp. But the YA angle is killing it – genre specifics that should have made the book interesting instead bog it down terribly. I began to wonder if Campbell took a checklist of YA attributes and then wrote the story around it. Not surprisingly, I can’t help but think this would have been far better with older characters.

So although I will continue with the series, I wish I found it more engaging. The narration was, of course, well done but the deadpan delivery needed to portray an emotionless mage leached a lot of life out of story.

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