A Vanishing Glow by Alexis Radcliff – A Review


A Copy of this book was provided to me by the Author in exchange for an honest review

Lets start this with the official book blurb: “A VANISHING GLOW is the exciting opening to THE MYSTECH ARCANUM series, a deep and thrilling blend of steampunk and flintlock fantasy with mature themes.

It is an Age of Revolution, an Age of Industrialism. Constructs, living men who are as much brass and steel as they are flesh, man the factories and wage the wars of a ruling elite who gorge themselves on the fruits of the common man’s labor. Mystech, a brilliant fusion of magic and machine, gives rise to a new class of privileged inventors and merchants even as the country festers with wounds from decades of internal strife.

Only one man holds the promise of a brighter future: Nole Ryon, the crown prince. When his childhood friend Jason Tern answers his call for aid, the two of them set out to fight for the change their country needs in order to survive, even as shadowy foes frustrate their efforts. But soon, Jason and Nole’s idealistic mission of hope becomes a furious manhunt for a political murderer as the nation balances on the precipice of a country-wide civil war. Can they cut through the threads of intrigue to discover their true enemy before everything is lost?

Sweeping from the ancient cities at the heart of the nation to the dusty edges of the war-torn frontier, A Vanishing Glow tells a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and assassins, friends and lovers, who come together in a time of epic struggle. Here a brave officer risks everything to win back his estranged father’s respect; a brilliant young engineer attempts to atone for her sins; a war-weary commander tries to pick up the pieces of the life he lost; and a man touched by the gods struggles to prepare a nation for the coming of an ancient evil which only he can see. In the dying light of a once-prosperous society, amid twisting plots, suffering and betrayal, lost love and shattered dreams, all must fight for what they hold dear. Who will taste the fruits of victory and who will lie bloodied on the ground in the light of a vanishing glow?

This book contains Volumes 1 & 2 of The Mystech Arcanum, respectively titled Shattered Dreams and Dark Omens.”

Sounds pretty epic right? You have man-machine hybrids and court intrigue and betrayal and suffering all that jazz! What more could you ask for?

Well…honestly quite a bit more. There will be SOME SPOILERS in this review in regards to the characters, specifically.

Allow me to explain. Alexis is a very pleasant woman and I am honored that she offered me a copy of her first book to review. And I feel that, with practice and polish, she can become a really solid writer. This book shows excellence in world building that appealed to my D&D roots, making me want to learn more about the world and its mechanics. What is numen? What are ascendants? What are the gods like and who are they? These questions popped up because of the way things were introduced, and this is a good thing.

Also from a technical standpoint her writing is spot on. No major spelling errors or grammatical mistakes.

However, there are some major problems that I had with this book, and sadly the problems exist with the two things I hold most paramount for a good story. The plot, and the characters.

You see, this is a dual plotline book. Similar to say Way of Kings by Brandon Sanders, or the Game of Thrones novels. We have two primary protagonists: Jason, a soldier who is a successful captain of a border patrol called the Windriders, and Nilya, a spunky sapper working for the Crimson Fist legion, the military of the Federation where the story takes place.

Each character has their own plotline. Thing is, only Jason’s is really developed with an actual story to it. You see, Nilya spends the first part of the book just living life as a sapper in the military, hanging out with her squad mate and trying to get noticed so she can become a company engineer and thus invent things rather then just blow stuff up. Jason however deals with political intrigue, mystery, and is the primary focus of the real story. Nilya’s story doesn’t actually pick up till about 40% of the way into the book, when certain events transpire. Its also at this point that we get a hint that maybe the two plotlines are connected. But Nilya’s story really doesn’t go anywhere. Its a story of redemption for things Nilya has done, but what she has done doesn’t really need redemption. Seriously. But I will discuss that more when I discuss her character.

And the second issue comes from the two characters themselves. Again, some spoilers about their history.

Jason is dull. Moreover, he is an archetype, a typical honest loyal and bullheaded soldier who is more at home on the frontlines then in a council room. He is also an idiot. He frequently does or says things that logically no one would say or do in these situations, but because he is super loyal and honest he does it anyway, damn the consequences! Thankfully when he fails (and he fails nearly constantly) he does suffer said consequences. He pisses off his few allies, misreads situations, and constantly gets his ass kicked in combat. This is supposed to be an intelligent and decorated captain of a border patrol, but he shows none of this during the course of the story. Further, he is constantly plagued by self doubt as to his ability to accomplish anything, and its warranted. Because he doesn’t really accomplish much. He also of course has a dark past, which you learn about roughly 40% of the way into the book during a major plot event. And his dark past is legitimate: He accidentally as a child killed his younger brother. His father then proceeds to send him to boarding school and does not speak to him for years, till the start of the book.

Nilya however starts as a much more interesting character. She is funny, witty, intelligent and has a personality beyond “suffering and self doubt”. One thing that drew me to her were hints that she had a dark past, as she constantly references thoughts of her parents, a school, and a girl named Tess. But she never goes into it. Its obvious early on that she is running from something she did, but its not until the 76% mark that you find out what she is running from. And when I did I about exploded in rage. Its the stupidest, most asinine thing I think I had seen. She ran…because she was a teenager who felt love a girl and the girl did not love her back. So she ran to avoid being forced into a life she didn’t want. Basically she is a selfish emotional teenager. I was like..SERIOUSLY?! It seemed that it would be vastly worse then this, the way I was strung along while reading about it.

And the way Nilya’s story ends is ridiculous. She helps a man she helped nearly kill to a town where a Monastery to the goddess of healing is, and then trades her life for his…by becoming a priest of the goddess. This leads to her redemption from all the things she has done…I guess? It was a non-ending to a non-plot involving a character who could have had so much more done with her.

Now I want to talk about the ending a bit. There are hints that would lead to the already announced sequel. The villains of the book start making references to “something out there” that will come if the people do not prepare. And of course the only way to prepare is take over the world and force the people to submit! All the intrigue and stuff in Jason’s story comes to head at the end, and the ending is adequate. The villains are believable at least, and the action at the end is decent. Be ware that there is not a lot of action but I did not mind so much.

Finally I want to point this out. The following is something the author tweeted when promoting the book:

“Steampunk cyborgs, flintlock soldiers, half-mad sorcerers, and a badass lady engineer. New debut novel!”

See that half-mad sorcerer bit? Yea. Unless you are referring to one villain who shows up for about 3 pages and gets captured at the end of the book and is more in common with a mad INVENTOR then a sorcerer, then there is not a HINT of actual magic in this book.

Everything is sword and gun here.

Further I would hesitate to place this is the “steampunk” genre. The standard definition of Steampunk is “a genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.”

There is no steam here. Everything is powered by Mystec Crystals, which are created through the use of Numen, or life energy. No steam. There is tech, but its pretty advanced.

Also, this doesn’t really factor into my rating but…the word Constructs is not the same as Cyborg. The people in this book which are called Constructs are actually Cyborgs. The general definition of Construct that I am aware of would be more along the lines of a Golem or Robot. Basically something with sentience or programming made of nonliving matter. Just an odd choice of words really.

Overall, I cannot recommend this book. There are flashes of something more buried here, and I think with practice Alexis could become a better writer, but unless you are a REAL hardcore fan of this sort of thing and can put up with the issues with the characters, I would avoid this book.

I rate this a 2/5.

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