I don’t write many book reviews. As a reader, I’m pretty tough to please (which sucks, believe me). But I recently found a pretty fantastic little fantasy novel by an independent author named Ben S. Dobson. As an ebook it’s usually priced between 99 cents and $1.99 in the kindle store (sometimes as much as $3.99). By the way, I have my own novel on a temporary 99 cent ebook sale right now, too.
Here’s my review of Scriber, which you can also find at Amazon and Goodreads:
Scriber by Ben S. Dobson
Scriber might be the best fantasy book I’ve read, or at least it might be my favorite. It’s not dense like Erikson or Martin, but it has the two things I always look for and rarely find together: great writing with great storytelling.
The best thing about Scriber is the telling of the tale through the voice of the incredibly flawed scholar Dennon Lark. This is first person epic fantasy, and first person is not easy to pull off, even harder when the lead character is a self-hating wimp. But it works. Brilliantly. One reason it works is because it makes sense that Dennon would be telling you a story since he is a historian–first person often feels artificial, but not this time–and because Dennon’s humility helps us root for him. And if you’re not sure at first, keep reading. You might find the author stumbling a little bit here and there (or not at all), but if you do, don’t worry and just keep reading.
Scriber isn’t “high fantasy.” No dragons (though the characters sometimes curse by saying “Damn it to the Dragon!”), no elves, no magical swords. There are wonderful fantastic elements, though, mostly related to a mysterious semi-undead enemy and nature spirits. The story is unconventional in many ways, but it also sticks to some tried and true fantasy tropes (big heroine, big stakes)–in just the right balance of being both different and familiar. The setting feels medieval and the author writes that flavor well. And it’s a true standalone story and a fast read (in the good way).
The story features the scriber and a large band of female soldiers. One of the few issues I had with the book was the abundance of characters in that troop. The women were referred to by first name only and, especially early on, I sometimes had a hard time telling them apart and remembering who was who. Another reviewer recently wrote that this wasn’t a problem for him, so that could just be me. I have to say that Sylla was my least favorite; she was believable enough but still a bit one-dimensional, but at least she played a good role. Also, I have to say this: Orya for the win. I loved Orya.
The book has two major characters, Dennon Lark and Bryndine Errynson, the leader of the company of female soldiers. No one else gets fleshed out as much as these two. The one limitation I wish hadn’t been in the book is that we never got deep into Bryn’s head–because the book was written in first person from Dennon’s point of view. Bryndine is a memorable, noble character and so easy to root for. I started playing a paladin in a D&D campaign recently and I had to resist the urge to name the character Bryndine (she’s really inspiring). On the flip side, though she was very human, she also had few flaws and she never felt quite as real to me as Dennon did. But that’s mostly understandable considering the first person pov. Still, I can’t help wondering how great it would’ve been to be able to take a peek inside the mind of Bryndine.
One of my favorite scenes in the book was a meeting between Bryn and Dennon when they first opened up to each other about their vulnerabilities and soon laughed at them–just a beautiful scene full of believable humanity. This is where I think the author’s gift for characterization really shone through.
The story is heavy on dialogue, maybe a little too much for my taste, but at least the dialogue was great. The plot sometimes moves forward in ways that are a little too convenient, but I never cared to nitpick because I was having too much fun. The pacing was excellent, although somewhere around the three-quarters point I though it sped up a little too much (after the big return)–this was the only part of the book that felt out of place with the rest, in my opinion. I thought the fight scenes were good, not great, but this isn’t a book about fight scenes.
This is a book about a man struggling against the shame of his past and trying to uncover lost truths about his world’s history. It’s a book about a colorful band of women warriors. It’s a book about a heroine as noble as any you’ve read. It’s full of great worldbuilding, heaps of mystery, and mature, skillful writing. And it finishes with a great crescendo.
As a horribly picky reader, I almost never find books that come this close to being perfect for me. That’s one of the reasons why I became a writer myself, because I wanted to at least try to take readers on the kind of journey that I want authors to guide me through, the kind of ride Ben Dobson just led me on. I’ve talked to Ben some since I started reading his book, but I didn’t know him before I picked up Scriber for free in the kindle store.
I just want to be clear in saying that although Ben and I are both independent authors writing in the same genre, and although I only write reviews for the rare books that I love, this review has nothing to do with a prior relationship with the author (we had none, even though he had already read my book and I didn’t know it) and everything to do with me loving this outstanding book and wanting to recommend this book to everyone. So this is just a guy named Moses, telling it on the mountain:
I’ve never found a free or cheap ebook as good as this one. It’s fantastic, and I’m so glad to have found a new favorite author. Ben, thanks for a great story told well. And sorry to be selfish, but I really hope you write more books as great as this one.
Here’s Scriber on Amazon.
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