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Review of ‘Fragments: Alora’s Tear, Volume 1’ by Nathan Barham

21 August, 2014

I don’t tend to do in-depth reviews of books very often, but I was very kindly provided with an advance review copy of ‘Fragments’ by the author, and as I’ve posted this on Goodreads and Amazon, thought it might as well have a page of its own here on the blog.

It’s fair to say that there are a few tropes in fantasy – often those that entered the genre via Tolkien – that have fallen out of favour in recent years. Reading ‘Fragments’, however, you start to wonder why.

The story begins with a particularly important moment in the formative years of our protagonist, the half-elf Askon. However, ‘Fragments’ is not a coming-of-age story, for which I was glad – instead, when we rejoin Askon after the prologue, he’s already an adult and a military commander, respected enough in his community to be considered to take over the helm of its leadership. First, though, he has one last assignment to undertake, and it’s fair to say it doesn’t run smoothly.

That assignment gives Barham a chance to really show off what I considered the novel’s two main strengths: its combat scenes and its world-building descriptions. For the latter, we get skilfully described landscapes and a real sense of place that does an excellent job of contrasting Askon’s idyllic home with the locations he later finds himself in; the former are even stronger, with tense, fast-paced fight scenes.

My only two real gripes with ‘Fragments’ are, as much as anything, my personal bugbears with a lot of traditional fantasy. First of all, there’s a bit too much travelling for my liking, and whilst Barham handles this well – with those strong descriptions and some interesting conversations taking place along the route – I still felt there were moments in the first half of the book when the plot was stalling for the sake of getting the characters from place to place. Secondly, there were a lack of female characters in the novel, but as ‘Fragments’ is really only the opening chapter in a series and features a fairly limited cast at this stage, I’m willing to give Barham the benefit of the doubt here.

That limited cast has expanded, too, by the end of the novel, as apparently disparate plot strands start to knit together. ‘Fragments’ continues to throw unexpected twists into the mix right until the end, providing a sense of mystery throughout, yet without resorting to a cliff-hanger. Instead, we get both closure and a sense that the story is just about to open up, widening the scope of both the world and its dangers in later volumes. That’s not to suggest there’s anything unsatisfying either about the conclusion or the rest of the novel, however. Instead, this is an excellent début that that simply hints at even better things to come.

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