Book, books, books...all he ever blathers on about is books...
The Cup in the Shadows (The Forbidden Powers)
I read another eBook on my brief Idaho adventure in May (which I've yet to ramble on about - sorry about that), The Cup in the Shadows (The Forbidden Powers) by R. Kane Maurer. I had fully-intended to post a review on Amazon and Goodreads immediately afterward, but I just never quite got around to it. This isn't meant to imply that the book was poorly written or that I didn't enjoy it. Admittedly, it did have some issues, but nothing that made it unreadable. And unlike some of the other author-shared eBooks I've read, this one did have a real plot and generally well-developed characters. And it was really long compared to most of the other eBooks I've read, so there was a ton of material to sift through and try to organize my thoughts around when I finished reading it.
First, an observation about the content - it's almost all-ages appropriate. There's the usual monster battling/violence common in all fantasy novels, which isn't really a huge factor for me for age-appropriateness. There are also brief references to sexual content1, but there is no actual sexual content. But the reason for only being "almost" all-ages appropriate is the profanity. It's a little heavier and cruder than the light profanity in Jake, Lucid Dreamer, but not quite up to Quentin Tarantino standards of vulgarity. There are no F-bombs, but there's a fair sampling of lesser - late-night network TV-level - profanity.
The primary protagonist of The Cup in the Shadows is a nine year-old boy named Jonny. For all appearances, he's a normal kid from our own specific dimension/universe/world and our current timeline. Jonny's story begins with an inadvertent trip elsewhere (not exactly a past timeline in our world, but it's never really made clear exactly where he went). His arrival to this new place immediately took me back to a series of Alan Dean Foster books I read a million years ago, the Spellsinger series. But I also felt a strong Army of Darkness (specifically the screwheads scene when Ash drops into the middle of a battle between medieval jarheads). But the actual story really wasn't much like either of these - they just share this story's fish-out-of-water premise.
So little Jonny embarks on an adventure - against his will - that borrows quite a bit from the Harry Potter stories and The Lord of the Rings (probably a little more from LoTR). There is one primary difference from both of those fictional universes - there are no elves (majestic Tolkien elves or weird little house elves), dwarves, or other non-people people. There are a few monsters - trolls (more similar to Tolkien's small, but fierce, goblins than Tolkien's enormous trolls), dragons (more like the intelligent and mostly benevolent dragons of Eragon than the dragons of Tolkien) and a smaller, almost-dragon/griffin sounding creature called a grevice. The dragons play a very minor role in the story, but the trolls and grevices are the shock troops of this book's Sauron/Voldemort character.
One complaint about the writing style: Much of the book (very nearly all of it) is written with third-person narration. Which is fine and generally preferable. But every now and then, the book slips into first person narration with Jonny as the narrator. And the observations he makes with his first-person perspective seem unlikely from a nine year-old boy (from our world/time, anyway). Here are a few examples of Jonny observations from the early chapters.
"The breastplate, boots, greaves, and shoulder plates were mismatched and ill fitting"
"ring mail cowl covered his head, "
What nine year-old boy knows the names of specific pieces of armor? A small thing, but it gave me pause as I read.
There's also at least one clear Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference, which was fun.
"Now, I know bunnies prancing through a meadow of flowers is often enough to make Aethin wet his breeches..." The men erupted into laughter.
The big man behind Cazar flushed redder than his beard. "It was a big rabbit," he shot back.
"Aye, and it had teeth like this." Cazar mockingly gestured his fingers like a pair of fangs. "We've heard your stories."
I highlighted, and had planned to share, passages from the story showing all the many parallel characters from Tolkien's stories and the Harry Potter series. But there are so many that it's been keeping me from finishing this sad little write-up, so I'm going to just blast through a few, and be done.
There are several references to "the fellowship" that is seeking out a magical artifact, the cup, that can give the bad guy all-power over the multiverse if he gets to it first.
There is a flawed ranger-type character, very Aragorn-ish, who takes the "fellowship," our reluctant nine-year-old and a bunch of other hero-types on a journey to the unknown.
Along the way they meet a giant bear of a man who bore a striking resemblance to Tolkien's Beorn, or maybe even Rowling's Hagrid.
There's a ciy of "Forest Folk" who I thought for sure were going to be elves, but they just turned out to be regular old people who lived in the forest in very Tolkien-like almost elf villages/cities.
The King of the realm Jonny finds himself in bears a striking resemblance to Dumbledore and/or Gandalf.
The story's villain is more Voldemort than Sauron, but his quest for the cup (this story's One Ring or Deathly Hallows) feels more Sauron than Voldemort. But he's definitely way more hands-on than Sauron ever was in LoTR.
Here's a very brief, but action-packed, excerpt between this story's Aragorn and Voldemort characters with the helpless Harry Potter parallel character sitting on the sidelines. Out of the context of the story, it probably isn't that exciting, but t was a pretty good
And then everything happened all at once. The door burst open and in stormed Cazar, his sword, Ethwayl, gleaming in hand. Jonny pushed to his feet, sending his chair tumbling backward. "Jonny, run!" Cazar shouted, charging forward.
The cloaked woman sprung to her feet, sending the table flipping on its side. The thick, black cloak flew off as though stripped by unseen hands. Where a short, haggard, old crone had been an instant before, now stood a young man, as tall as Cazar.
His hair was jet black and cropped short, brushed back with ardent meticulousness, not a single lock out of a place. By contrast, his skin was pale and smooth as porcelain. A few pearly blue veins were visible beneath the veneer. He wore black robes immaculately tailored to his thin frame. High cheekbones overrode his shallow cheeks and sharply angled jaw. Though as chilling as his overall countenance was, it was warm and friendly compared to his eyes. Piercingly black, they reflected the soullessness of a shark, the intensity of a rabid wolf, and the patience of a vulture circling prey.
As Cazar charged forward, swirling balls of fire appeared in the man's hands. With inhuman speed, he hurled the fireballs, each the size of a baseball at Cazar. As fast as he launched them, a new orb of flames burst into life in his hand. Cazar moved fast, dodging the first and swatting the second away with his sword. But the third caught the Guard square the chest, sending him flying back. The warrior collapsed in a limp pile by the door, tendrils of smoke drifting from a charred hole in his chest.
Also worth mentioning was some of the vocabulary that I found confusing because it was used differently than I had seen it used previously. For example, Barrow was used several times, but not as a tomb, as in LoTR, but in reference to hills/mountains. Tor seemed to be used interchangeable with Barrow, which is an acceptable use. To be honest, I was completely unfamiliar with "Tor" as anything other than a SCi-Fi publishing house prior to looking it up after reading this book. And lastly, Spriggan was something I'm sure I've read in other fantasy novels because I did have an idea of what it was, but I did look it up to be sure I was picturing the correct mythical critter.
If you enjoy the aforementioned author's works (Tolkien, Foster, Rowling, Raimi), you'll probably enjoy The Cup in the Shadows. While it has a few flaws, it's certainly not the worst writing I have come across.
I've finished one and started another physical books in the past few weeks (so there are six waiting to be mentioned now) and still have a mountain of other stuff I might get around to talking about (like May's Idaho adventure). There's just too little time and too many distractions.
Oh, another distraction has been a foray into the world of Harry Potter fan-fiction (writing, not reading). It feels lazy to use a world/characters that someone else created and create new stories, but it's something that I wanted to do after spending too much time playing the Android Hogwart's Mystery game. Maybe I'll share that here someday. Or maybe not. We'll see.
1 i.e. Women waving to the passing heroes, who were likely to have listed their occupation as "seamstress," when no actual sewing occurred in their actual occupation. Or these same women lurking half-dressed in dark alleys. You get the picture.