When I reviewed the first book in A.E. Bennett’s The Serrulata Saga, Gathering of the Four back in August (if you haven’t read that review, click here to read it), I commented about how that book cleverly infuses fantasy and science fiction elements, making for a science fantasy that presents a classical fantasy world that also happens to present a dystopian future. The saga’s second chapter, Test of the Four, continues to blend these elements as it expands the scope of this story’s world and mythology. This second entry begins to answer some of the questions posed in the first book, while adding more layers to the mystery, with new questions needing to be answered.
While many readers lament the inclusion of prologues and epilogues in books, I find that they can be used to great effect. Test of the Four’s prologue, particularly, serves as a great example of what this trope can achieve, as one of the series’ characters, Eve, finds herself in a foreign world—1999—millennia removed from the saga’s setting in the 4000s CE. The opening takes readers familiar with the series outside of their comfort zone, and will grab new readers’ attention with a setting that is so familiar, when everything they had seen prior to reading it puts it firmly in an unfamiliar world and time. Bennett captures this period beautifully, and anybody who recalls the era will appreciate it, while also managing to make the reader fear for a character suddenly walking these unfamiliar, and terrifying, streets.
As Test of the Four moves past its prologue, readers are transported back to the Realm, and outside its borders, where much of the action takes place. As it tells the story of its four lead characters—Leora, Leopold, Roland and Aurora—and its broad supporting cast in the future, the book builds its mystery, connecting the events of both this and Gathering of the Four to the prologue. The twists and turns that connect the world are entertaining, though the linkages to 1999 and the sequence of events didn’t entirely work for me. There’s more of the series to come, though, and as the story continues, future instalments could remedy that. It’s also something that comes down to personal preference, and while I won’t spoil it, it’s entirely possible that it could work for you.
At 490 pages in paperback and hardcover (or an estimated 492 pages on Kindle), Test of the Four is slightly shorter than its predecessor, but it is still a long book. Test of the Four’s scope is also broader, with more plot elements and world building, making use of the space now that readers are (assuming they’ve read the first book) familiar with the world and its characters. The plot moves through slowly, and at times feels disjointed with its disparate elements not coming together as well as they could.
The book’s disjointed feel isn’t helped by the author’s repeating of information throughout it. That hampers the flow in Gathering of the Four, and it continues to do so in its sequel. Like that previous book, the prose is written in an inviting style. Characters and events are described in vivid detail, although, with the exception of 1999 and a few other instances outside of the core narrative, the details of the world aren’t described in as much detail. I need to make special mention of the introduction to each chapter, featuring colourful text, quoting axioms and texts from throughout the Realm’s history.
Once again, among the areas of the book described in great detail are its sex scenes, of which there are many. The level of detail provided is explicit, but due to the author’s style in writing them, they don’t feel erotic, nor do they feel particularly romantic. Had Bennett taken a less is more approach with these, they would have benefitted the book. While the book also features violence and a fair amount of swearing, these don’t stand out as much. Test of the Four in most respects feels like a young adult book, but—as the beginning of the book points out—it is only suitable for audiences over eighteen. In most other respects, this is a book that could resonate with young readers, but has instead been infused with material inappropriate for them. I should note that, while these scenes don’t work for me, I do appreciate how positively they present consent.
Consent is just one of the themes that Test of the Four presents positively. It is also a book that promotes inclusion, and throughout, it presents themes of feminism and LGBTQI+ rights. Its subject matter also presents its world as a xenophobic one—parallel to our world, something presented during its 1999 prologue—with characters being discriminated against because of their gender, their sexual identity, or because they wield the “Xanthcraft” power. Bennett uses these themes to promote a positive worldview while casting a reflection against some of the areas our world desperately needs to lift its game.
As the second book in The Serrulata Saga, Test of the Four doesn’t entirely stand on its own, and I’d recommend reading Gathering of the Four first. This doesn’t spend much time getting readers caught up in the world, but if you pick this up first, you’ll still be able to follow along. The story itself feels complete, and although there’s more story to come, you won’t be left feeling as though you’ve only read part of a story.
Test of the Four is an entertaining read that presents an enjoyable science fantasy world and continues the fun adventure from the first novel. With its disjointed plot and sex scenes that feel more out of place than its predecessor, it doesn’t work quite as well, but it continues an intriguing story that still has plenty of fun places to go.
I wish you could have seen it, my dear. They were practically at each other’s throats! There is certainly trouble in the House Verte—you mark my words. If the Lord and Lady Verte aren’t keeping separate households by this autumn, I’ll eat my favorite hat!
~ Excerpt from a letter written by Lady Tisha Linganore to Kady Henrietta Cumberland, dated the 6th day of Fourth Month in the year 330.Test of the Four: Book Two of the Serrulata Saga, Chapter 7
Test of the Four: Book Two of the Serrulata Saga was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
Test of the Four is available in both physical and Kindle forms, exclusive to Amazon.
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