While I am pleased to present my advance review of The Serpent Lord, the first book in author Wren Murphy’s The Crown of Olmalis series, I will ask for your patience: it is a tough book to review. Not because I’m struggling to say nice things about it; quite the contrary, it’s an excellent book. But as I sat down to write this review, I found myself at pains about how to discuss this tale without spoiling it. There is very little information I can provide about the story that:
- isn’t already in the blurb; and
- won’t spoil any aspect of the tale.
From the minute I began reading The Serpent Lord, right after that “Chapter 1” staring at me, I knew this book was going to subvert my expectations. The opening line (“Becoming a spinster was not her intended choice, but as she observed the obnoxiously dressed lords standing in a group on the opposite side of the great Hall, Princess Sarra knew it was the correct one”) is an interesting opening for a fantasy story, and one with a lot of flavour. It captured my attention immediately, and as the chapter continues, it continues to do so. As it progresses, the chapter sets the scene, showing the reader who Princess Sarra is and what her world is like, before the story kicks in with her abduction.
The Serpent Lord is most certainly a fantasy story, with the trappings you would ordinarily expect from a high fantasy. Swords, orcs, and magic are all included in the book, and the author builds an intriguing world. Throughout this book’s 288 pages (or its estimated 270 Kindle swipes), Murphy eschews many fantasy tropes, instead focusing on an intimate story about a princess and her kidnapper. And The Serpent Lord is that much better for it, unravelling its story and surrounding mysteries slowly and carefully, with a matching pace. While many slower paced books become boring after a time as the reader waits for something to happen, The Serpent Lord is never at risk of such a fate.
A large part of the book’s success lies with its characters. Sarra is The Serpent Lord’s primary protagonist, and the entire story is told through her point of view. The second protagonist is the Serpent Lord himself, or simply Ares. While I must admit that I didn’t connect with Sarra immediately in the story, she grew on me as the story continued. Throughout this tale, the character grows into herself and shines brightly, particularly as the book enters its third act. While Sarra took a little time to grow on me, the titular Serpent Lord is a fun and engaging character from the outset; a complex man, guided by his own strict moral compass. While the book does feature other characters, they appear sparingly. The vast majority of The Serpent Lord focuses on these two characters.
With most of the book focusing on its two lead characters to the point where the other characters seldomly appear, Murphy could have easily relied on dialogue between the two to fill the pages. The dialogue she has crafted for these characters is full of conviction and emotion, and sounds true to the setting. However, Murphy ensures that she does not overuse this dialogue. In fact, she has only used dialogue where needed, with far more focus being placed on the prose. By telling her story this way, Murphy avoids the book feeling like a script for a stage play.
As you may have gleaned from the beginning of this review (and you may glean again shortly thereafter if you don’t stop with the review itself), The Serpent Lord’s prose is wonderful, and for me, the highest point of the book. Murphy’s writing is descriptive, taking its time to articulate events and the character’s reactions to these events, while also maintaining a sense of beauty and whimsy to it. This prose kept me reading, constantly telling myself “just one more chapter,” until I completed it in just two sittings.
As the book’s cover states, The Serpent Lord is the first book in The Crown of Olmalis series (book two, The Seer Princess, is due for release in 2022). As the first part of a series, it obviously builds to more—and it does so deftly, particularly its absolutely brilliant ending, which I would so like to discuss (but not at the cost of ruining anybody’s enjoyment of it—but Murphy does a brilliant job of making the book feel like a great standalone adventure as well.
Between its prose, characters, twists and turns, and its slow burn story, The Serpent Lord is a wonderful journey, a tale of two truly wonderful characters. If you are a fan of fantasy or intimate stories, I recommend you pick up a copy upon its release on 18 October. Then, maybe, you’ll be as excited about The Seer Princess as I am.
The material was breathtaking, a sea of shimmering blue as dark as the ocean. Reaching into the chest, she retrieved a gown, holding it to her body once she climbed to her feet. The sheath silhouette suited her, even as it dangled from her hands. A teal skirt sat beneath long arrow-shaped pieces of fabric falling from the hem of the bodice. They reached below her knees, creating a stunning layered effect to the dress, accentuating her natural figure. Embellishments of gold lined the ends of the skirt and danced around her bust. Soft, thin material created capped sleeves, and, although it should have been heavy to golf, the gown itself was lightweight and well crafted. Sarra mused at how perfect it was, lamenting for a fraction of a moment how the only thing missing was her crown.The Serpent Lord, Chapter 19
The Serpent Lord: The Crown of Olmalis, Book 1 was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
The Serpent Lord will be available in paperback and eBook formats from book retailers (including—but not limited to—Amazon) from 18 October 2021. To get a copy from your favourite retailer, you can click here.
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