Review of The Fifth Sorceress by Robert Newcomb


Fantasy Audiobooks - The Fifth Sorceress by Robert NewcombThe Fifth Sorceress
By Robert Newcomb; Read by Simon Jones
5 CDs – 6 Hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 0553713922
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic /

“It is more than three centuries since the ravages of a devastating war nearly tore apart the kingdom of Eutracia. In its wake, those who masterminded the bloodshed-a quartet of powerful, conquest-hungry Sorceresses-were sentenced to exile, with return all but impossible and death all but inevitable. Now a land of peace and plenty, protected and guided by a council of immortal wizards, Eutracia is about to crown a new king. And as the coronation approaches, the spirit of celebration fills every heart. Except one.”

Ya, mine! That’s mostly a joke, mostly. Overall this novel wasn’t terrible. I didn’t have my mind wander off too often, and whenever it did Newcomb would throw a shocking scene at it to bring me back. But I have a number of problems with The Fifth Sorceress:

1. It is yet another in the irrepressibly publishable world-saving magic fest novels. You know the kind where some editor says, “Wait I know, let’s tell another Tolkien story, but not do it as well.” Ya that kind.

2. The pseudo-mystic blood based magic system at the story’s core. This magic system has provenance which could have come straight from bullshit artist Madame Blavatsky. Untrue is not a possible criticism of fiction so I’ll just say “distasteful”. It might be possible or even interesting to tell a story like this straight faced, but it’d have to be with a damn impressive point to it. This didn’t.

3. Magic use. Generic and temporary bodily weakness seems to be the only consequence of the use of magic. Depressing in its unoriginality.

4. Women “of the blood” are always evil and men “of the blood” always good. So much for subtlety and complexity in gender relations. Newcomb could have done a lot more with his bifurcated magic system than making it bad girls vs. good guys.

5. The cookie-cutter world itself. Planets full of improbably named bodies of water and calcified quasi-medieval governments don’t do much for me – not after the 40 or 50th iteration of them anyway. Be more creative please.

Despite these problems there are some genuinely original and shocking scenes peppered throughout the novel and Newcomb handles these all well. Another point in its favor is that Newcomb doesn’t leave the reader hanging at the end, even though this is the first book in a series. Leaving us hanging is something he could have done in an attempt to get us to read the next installment in “The Chronicles of Blood And Stone” series. He leaves open the possibility for you to read on but doesn’t punish you by withholding an ending.

On the audio end, this is a fully digital recording so The Fifth Sorceress sounds phenomenal. But the real kudos goes to narrator Simon Jones (of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy fame) who does a fine job keeping the aural end up. When he voices the hapless Prince Tristan he invokes his old Arthur Dent persona. The centuries old wizard named Wigg sounds like a more put-upon Gandalf and most of the females voiced by Jones sound either wicked or seducing or both at the same time – a neat trick. If you’re in the mood for a light listen The Fifth Sorceress may suit you. Overall I really can’t say I hated it. I credit this mostly to the abridger. The abridgement may, in fact, have made an hefty and mostly indigestible novel far more palatable. After all that can you believe I’m going to attempt the sequel?

Posted by Jesse Willis

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