As much as bookstores’ proclivity to group science fiction and fantasy together annoys me, books that infuse both genres can yield great results. Take Gathering of the Four: Book One of the Serrulata Saga for instance. Largely a fantasy, it infuses science fiction elements. This is a book that is firmly entrenched in the epic fantasy genre, but also presents a dystopian future. Author A.E. Bennett, to coin a fantasy term, has used alchemy to mix the genres; or to use a scientific term, has infused this book with the DNA of both science fiction and fantasy. Whichever way you look at it, this approach has enriched the story.
Set in the 4000s (CE, not AD), humanity, as we know it, is long gone. We are consigned to history, referred to as “ancients,” a mysterious race of forbearers whose knowledge and technology has been lost to the ages. In our place stand the people of the Realm, a less advanced society fearful of whatever lies past its borders and whose rules and laws are designed to keep people in their place. This society is xenophobic, particularly towards Xanthos, who wield the mysterious power of Xanthcraft.
As Gathering of the Four brings its protagonists together and sets them on their path as they run from those who would oppress them, it builds a mystery around what happened to humanity. As the Hale-Bopp comet casts a shadow over the world and the world’s residents muse as to what this may mean, the fate of life as we know it serves as an undercurrent to the adventure the characters embark on. While the novel is predominantly a fantasy read—and an enjoyable one—these touches of science fiction enhance the story, creating something that stands apart from other epic fantasy stories, despite still taking place in a Middle Ages-style world that fans of the genre are familiar with.
Given the futuristic and fantastical setting, I would have appreciated it if the character’s names in the books weren’t names that we use in the modern day. Names and naming conventions change drastically over the period of centuries (let alone millennia) and differ throughout cultures. While this is a fairly small issue in the grand scheme of things, and the names are fitting for a story in a fantasy setting, as Gathering of the Four takes place in a completely different society, the recognisable names took me out of the book and interfered with my ability to suspend my disbelief. Further, the phonetic similarity of the protagonists’ names—Leopold, Leora, Aurora, Roland—interferes with the flow of the writing, as it takes a little more work for the brain to distinguish between the characters.
These characters work well and play off each other well. They are a distinct group of characters with their own places within the Realm’s society, and their differences from each other make for some truly interesting group dynamics. The fact that in their own right, they are highly enjoyable helps this, as does their development. While each character fits a fantasy archetype, with Leora wielding the magical Xanthcraft, Roland being a rogue, Leopold essentially a knight who has turned his back on the order (in this instance, the White Riders) and Aurora being a high society member of the gentry, Bennett has created fully fleshed out characters with great depth.
These characters’ interactions with the world around them and the societal norms that dictate how the world sees them—and to some degree, how they see themselves—reflects back to today’s society. Leora is feared for her power and her difference, Roland’s bisexuality is criminalised, Aurora is considered a lady and little more, and Leopold has been indoctrinated into following those in power. While in many ways, society has moved past where the Realm’s society is, themes of xenophobia, sexism, homophobia and abuse of power remain resonant today.
At 508 pages in paperback and hardcover (or an estimated 510 pages on Kindle), Gathering of the Four is a hefty read, which Bennett uses to further the plot, while also providing plenty of characterisation that helps to establish the characters’ viewpoints. The prose is engaging and sets an inviting tone, but could have been tightened slightly, as Bennett has a habit of repeating herself through the book, giving the same information multiple times. Characters and actions are described in great detail, though the settings and locations aren’t explored in as much depth, which meant I wasn’t transported into the world as much as I would have liked.
Among the elements the book details in great detail are the sex scenes, of which there are a number. Throughout the book, they are outlined in explicit detail and, while they convey the characters’ emotions, they border on erotica. There is also a fair amount of violence and profanity used in the book. The tone and broad story are elements I can see appealing to people who enjoy young adult books, however the subject matter is certainly designed for adults only.
As the subtitle Book One of the Serrulata Saga makes clear, Gathering of the Four is the first book in a series. The story is open ended and the novel ends with a great hook, enticing readers to pick up the next book. While the book feels like a complete experience, you will need to read further for the entirety of the story.
Gathering the Four infuses fantasy with science fiction, creating a unique experience. While the character names and the exploration of the world impacted how immersed I was in the story, the fully realised characters combined with its themes add a level of depth to it. The book entertains, and while it does that, it also has the reader thinking about the world we live in.
He continued down the corridor through what he assumed was the market: a group of haphazardly built booths where pathetic individuals hocked cheap junk and poorly made bits of fabric they claimed were “scarves” or “hats” or—was that supposed to be a tunic?Gathering of the Four: Book One of the Serrulata Saga, Chapter 21
Gathering of the Four: Book One of the Serrulata Saga was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
Gathering of the Four is available in both physical and Kindle forms, exclusive to Amazon.
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