Review of Tournament of Heartsby Dustin Bilyk
Extraordinary, Bold, and Riveting. Those are the adjectives that come to my mind when I want to describe Tournament of Hearts, the first novel in the brand new Librarian Gladiator series. This is powerful stuff!
The story offers an immersive YA and adult fantasy in which the most striking feature is the rampaging power of the imagination of the author. The story holds the reader's attention and moves at a rapid pace through a complex series of events. The writing is a little on the raw side but there is great talent here.
Hamelin is a mediaeval-style village isolated by a mountain wall (and more) from its world. There is a particular structure to the layout and administration of the village, and the reasons for this become clear in the course of the story. The unfolding of the background to Hamelin's situation is one of the strong points of this book.
Neven Fairchild is the librarian of the title, an unwilling gladiator in the life-and-death Tournament of Hearts. While a prospective reader might wonder about a comparison to the Hunger Games, I would advise them not to. Bilyk's world is fantasy all the way, and too clearly an original vision. Characters tend to be just a little larger than life, in the nature of a fantasy, and are extremely well depicted in a concise and effective style. Bilyk devotes equal attention to all his characters, both good and evil. Neven, Talpus (a real he-man), Delgado (a player of the angles) and Reoni (a fiery young woman and an enemy) are leading human characters, but the large cast includes creatures vaguely reminiscent of harpies, called the Jagisado, together with other strange humans and some of the most horrible monsters I have yet come across.
Neven's name has been drawn in the Tournament, and at the same time he begins to discover his own abilities, origins and purpose. He frantically searches for answers within the framework of the stresses placed upon him while time ticks away. If Neven loses in the contest, which many people confidently expect, not only will he die but his father as his only present relative will be killed along with him. On top of that, the life's work of their entire bloodline will be lost. The stakes could hardly be higher, could they?
The writing style is good and flows well, but is badly flawed by the poor editing. If this is to be an honest review, I have to say that - but I must add that this will not keep me from reading Dustin Bilyk again. He creates a fantasy that is just too good to stay away from! Perhaps I should mention that there is also a fair amount of foul language, although I did not feel that it was gratuitous. Bilyk's world is richly detailed, vividly presented and demands you return for more. The story is excellent and had me flicking pages as fast as I could go, all the way through.
If you are extremely sensitive to editing flaws I would suggest waiting for the paperback which I predict will be forthcoming before too long. Writers with this amount of talent are generally picked up by mainstream publishers at some point, and the editing gets done. I should add that Dustin Bilyk has promised to release a cleaned up version, so I'm not just guessing in the dark!
All other fantasy fans, get yourself a copy and dive in. I recommend this very, very highly. Five stars, less one for the editing.
I'm just about finished, and - WOW! I'm feeling extremely spoiled to have enjoyed two amazing fantasy books one after the other. Review coming just real soon now!
Added to my To Read list:
Romance in Four Seasons
by M. D. Gardner