[Review] The Brotherhood of Sfarr – Mark P. Davies

Thanks for stopping in!  Let’s dive right into the next of the book reviews I’ve got going.  The book I’m going to talk about today is The Brotherhood of Sfarr, by Mark P. Davies.  This is the first book in the Weavers and Wyrders saga, of which according to Goodreads and Amazon there are two books out thus far.

Here is a link, for those interested.

Brotherhood of Sfarr

The Brotherhood of Sfarr follows Jenna and her younger brother Hahn as they arrive in Frethenia.  Their uncle lives there, and Jenna wants to start an apothecary.  Her hopes are dashed when she discovers that women aren’t permitted to do that.  Upon arriving, they’re forced to watch as a woman is Incasted for being a witch, which means she has her tongue cut out.  In their attempts to help the ‘witch’ and find out why she was being punished, they uncover a plot by the local church to eliminate an ‘alternate doctrine’, and begin to see the signs of an ancient prophecy coming to life surrounding their land’s next queen-to-be.

All…right.

Okay.  So.  I will be up front and honest here – I DNF’d (did-not-finish) this novel, at about 30% of the way through the text.  As such, the comments and critique that I leave here can only in good faith apply to that section of the book.  With the cat out of the bag, the question becomes why, and what went wrong for me with this book?

I’ll begin by talking about some of what I think this book does very well, before delving into the critiques.

Above all else, it’s very, very obvious that a great amount of love and care went into this book.  The world is exquisitely developed, with everything down to moon charts created to accompany it.  I’m sure that Davies has put an astounding amount of time into creating the universe and setting, and that shows.

Additionally, I think that the imagery contained within was really exceptional.  If you’re looking for a read that could really engage your senses, then this could be a good fit for you.  A great deal of care is taken to illustrate the scenery, and show the characters’ attempts to find beauty in their world.

As with the scenery and world, the grammar in this novel shows the same level of meticulous care.  Mechanically, the sentences and prose in this book are rock-solid, and the only issue that I’d pick with it on this front isn’t really a grammar issue (I’ll discuss it more below).

So.  That’s what clicked for me.

What didn’t?

First and foremost, the single biggest barrier that I had to reading this book was a powerful concentration of series-specific jargon.  There were new names for everything, from shirts to gowns to meals to days and so on and so forth.  I think that worldbuilding and creating a detailed, intricate world is an admirable goal, and I’m not saying to not have any of that in the book, but there were instances where a single paragraph would have four or five terms I didn’t know in it.  At that point, it became an imposition to my reading, since I had no basis for understanding why those terms were important enough to warrant being different and new.

I think that this problem for me was emphasized with the way each series-specific term was treated as a proper noun – I mentioned a bone to pick with grammar above, and this is it.  The story has creatures called mala, which are akin to rideable birds.  ‘Dinner’ was also renamed to ‘evenmeal’

Now, when these terms were referenced, it would be written as, say,

“Jenna urged her Mala onward with a nudge.”

“Hahn licked his lips, his mind already on the Evenmeal ahead.”

In every instance, these series-specific terms were capitalized, and this in my mind really served to continuously make sure that they stood out to the reader.  Where I might have otherwise grown used to them, as I should have, and blurred over them, instead they were set apart as different and special every time they were used.

In the end, rather than make the world feel unique and alive, they just served to hide what was happening in the story behind dense text and events I didn’t have the vocabulary to understand.

I did feel that especially at the start, there wasn’t enough attention given to characters’ identity/motivations.  I struggled a lot with Hahn especially – He’d wax poetical about the way the water filled up the bathtub, making complicated comparisons to society and learned behaviors, and then turn around and call Jenna “sis” like a child.  In time, I figured out that was because Hahn is supposed to be a prepubescent boy.  Given his ponderous nature, that frankly didn’t come across, and so his character always felt conflicted to me.

It continues on through where he’s ‘negotiating’ with two women to spy for him.  After they agree, one asks if he’d have ‘put them to death’ if they didn’t, and he smiles and says yes.  It feels incredibly out of character with how he’d been established thus far, and it makes him seem more brutal/warriorlike than the ‘cunning’ the audience is told he is.

Likewise, even though we as the readers were told often that Jenna was a warrior, it wasn’t played out as such.  Jenna comments at one point that the locals clearly have gotten ‘witch’ and ‘warrior’ mixed up, since they keep calling her a witch.

Well, at that stage, Jenna has had prophetic dreams, tried to open an apothecary, prepared and administered strange/magical healing remedies, and prayed to a lesser/unrecognized goddess.  And has not gotten in a fight or any such business.  Frankly, the cityfolk are right, and Jenna is wrong.  She certainly presents like a witch more than a warrior.

In the end, telling the audience someone is a certain way isn’t enough.  They have to be shown to act that way, plausibly and naturally.  Throughout the whole opening section, I felt like very little care was given to the decision making process of the characters.  They acted often seemingly without regard for danger, or without even stopping to muse if it was a bad idea before deciding they needed to act despite the risks.  It reduced their agency.

Finally – I’m putting this last because it’s more structural and less story.

I was reading on kindle, through my phone, with the text side pretty small (I don’t like to change pages often).  While I was doing so, there were a number of times when I’d change page, and find that the entire next page was a single paragraph with no breaks.

Situations like that made the book very, very difficult to read, as any points of importance were hidden behind a seamless wall of flowered prose.  I’d recommend that another look be given to the formatting, to try and break some of that up.

And…I think that’s about enough xD

I do think that there’s a ton of potential in this series and from this author.  At the core of the story was a story, which certainly held a lot of promise, and given the obvious care Davies took with his world, I’m completely certain that there were some good and exciting things coming down the line.

My overall rating: 2/5

Would I recommend this story to you: I think this story could appeal to those who enjoy fiction with dense, visually-intensive prose, or those who enjoy a worldbuilding-heavy story.

Percentage of book read: 30%

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