Book Review: Mark of Destiny

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Book Review: Mark of DestinyMark of Destiny: An Epic Fantasy Novel by Azrael James
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on March 7th 2017
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Tizrah, you are my prophetess. The fate of Belstrom rests in your hands. The Graduate-Charged with eradicating an ancient magic, how will he succeed while facing treachery on all sides. The High Wizard-The most powerful mage in Belstrom bent on protecting his rule. Will his greed be his undoing? The Prophetess-Will she unite the nation before the promised time of testing? This Debut novel by ground-breaking author Azrael James, transports readers to a world where magic rules, and nothing is as it seems.

I really wanted to like this book, but it just didn’t work for me. I couldn’t get past the underdeveloped characters, world, and plot. There simply was not enough backstory to make me feel attached to the characters, who felt like they were ripped from the pages of other novels. Plus, the book suffered from too many cases of miraculous conveniences that took away the sense of urgency, tension, or fear. And most problems were solved as soon as they first appeared. Though the novel did try to include a complex magic system, it felt like a rehashed version of something I had read before, namely Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory’s Obsidian Mountain Trilogy, which features a struggle between High Magic and Wild Magic. But unlike the Obsidian Mountain trilogy, Mark of Destiny doesn’t fully explain the history of these magics, why one is accepted and the other persecuted, or much else involving its world, villains, or even main characters.


It all starts when armory brat Tizrah, is out hunting a wolvlike, a creature that is notoriously hard to kill. She slays the wolvlike with a bow and arrow, to prove herself and to win a spot in the Hunger Games-esque Warrior Trials. I wondered to myself as I read, why is an armory worker, who is also the daughter of a blacksmith, even using a bow and arrow in the first place, when she has so many swords and shields available to her? Why craft a bow and not a cool sword?  Plus, why does Tizrah so badly want to participate in the Warrior Trials in the first place? Sure, she wants to prove herself as more than an “armory brat,” but why?  She is helpful to her father in the forge as his only family member and assistant; one would think that she would inherit his business and earn her respect as a craftsman.


I would have enjoyed seeing more reasoning and development behind it all, like Tizrah training in secret to prepare for the Warrior Trial, instead of just hunting down a wolvlike with a bow and arrow, something very reminiscent of Katniss’s hunting to support her family. Or alternatively, Tizrah could have wanted to compete in the Warrior Trials out of hopes of winning the grand prize and buying her ill mother medicine before she succumbed to her disease. In actuality, the book only reveals that the men at the trials are sexist and won’t let her enter and that perhaps the god, Oshawa, gave her this burning desire to prove herself as part of her forthcoming destiny. This explanation doesn’t make for a very interesting character or establish one who is in control of her own decisions and fate. Instead, it makes her a mere product of destiny.


And this destiny comes whooshing in on the wings of a gryphon, known as the messenger of the god Oshawa, in the sky above Tizrah. She wonders why it is there, but does not attempt to kill it, even though she is extremely eager to prove herself. Moments after spotting it, she feels an intense burning on her arm and passes out. Somehow, she knows the gryphon is watching over her while she’s asleep. Like most things in this book, this encounter left me with many questions. Why is a gryphon known as a messenger of the gods? Where did it come from? How did it find her? Are there more gryphons in the universe? Why does it appear in front of her and protect her? What is it protecting her from? But none of these questions are answered. Sadly, this is a trend in the novel and I soon stopped caring about the possible answers at all.


Tizrah wakes up back home, because somehow her father just happened to find her out in the middle of nowhere. Upon waking, she realizes that she has a mysterious marking on her arm:


“It had three distinct sections, which swirled upon one another as they joined together in the center. The shapes had dissimilar colors. One was azure, like the sky, another shared the color of dark lavender, and the last was pure white, like a temple rose or a sacrificial lamb.”


Alarmed by the appearance of what he knows as a rune on his daughter’s arm, her father—who is a barely functioning alcoholic, but somehow knows these things—sends her off to the town priest, Illadari for answers. Illadari, knowing that the rune is anything but the accepted form of magic—Curo magic—sends her on a journey to seek out training from those who know the Runic magic system better than he. The readers learn that there are two forms of magic given to man by the god, Oshawa, in the hopes of maintaining some sort of universal balance. Curo magic is used by the ruling High Wizards, who hate and seek to destroy all things pertaining to Rune Magic.


At the same time, readers meet Korlin, an aspiring member of High Wizards, who is supposed to serve as a foil for Tizrah, I think. Korlin is ordered to find the new Maaka, or the “Chosen One” of the Runic magic system, by the super crazy leader of the High Wizard Council, Eco. Eco, who hates the Maaka and anything to do with Rune magic, is allowed to rule, despite having drawn from too many black diamonds—items that restore high wizard mana (magic reserves)—and being out of his mind. His vendetta is never truly explained and is inexplicably brushed off as insanity from serving in the Great War, which we are never really told anything about—ever. I’m still uncertain why the High Wizards decided to persecute Runic magic users. Is it all really just because of Eco and his vendetta? And if so, wouldn’t the persecution of Rune magicians end with his death? If not, why?


My questions didn’t end with the introduction of Korlin, an ambitious young man who is eager to prove himself to Eco and the other High Wizards. On command, he kills without question; this is strangely the only time in the book where he appears to be a capable bad guy. The rest of the time, he does not want to harm anyone. It’s like someone flipped a switch and said “ah, this character will be pure and innocent now!” This does not make him a good villain or foil for Tizrah. Plus, when he reaches the town where Tizrah lives, Illadari is ready for the character, who is evidently supposed to be threatening. Illadari, who has already spirited Tizrah away, easily sends Korlin off on wild-goose chase in the opposite direction. This takes away all the feelings of desperation and urgency out of Tizrah’s departure, for there’s really no one after her at all anymore and the person who was, is super easily rerouted and pretty darn dense.


What’s more is that, Tizrah and Korlin both make their “epic” journeys in no time at all. The journey is broken up into a few days, which are only covered in a few paragraphs, making it feel like not much of a quest at all. Furthermore, Tizrah’s journey appears in journal style, which is kind of jarring, as the rest of the book is not written in such a manner.


Plus, everything seems to go coincidentally well for the protagonists. For instance, Korlin meets a beautiful woman at the first place he stops to inquire about the Maaka and she, of course, decides to help him on his quest—never mind that Korlin infers she is a prostitute to her face and that she slaps him! Her forgiveness happens moments later, making her perhaps the most forgiving woman ever. Korlin rapidly develops feelings for her, kisses her, has sex with her, and then decides to take her to meet his family, whom he hasn’t seen in years.


After finding his family dead at the hands of Eco, Korlin changes sides and is accepted with open arms by Tizrah and her allies. Instantly, he is referred to as a “friend,” despite the fact that he was planning to trap Tizrah in a magical soul shard for as long as she lived and hand her over to the High Wizards.  It seems that this should be considered more carefully, but instead, Korlin is sent off on his own important quest to seek the aid of the Jula people, without any serious deliberation or misgivings. At this point, I was questioning why they didn’t all just hold hands and sing around a campfire.


And of course, his Jula lover, Seri, just happens to be the princess of the tribe of the Jula! This means that she can easily gain Korlin access to what is an isolated and untrusting society. What luck! If this were the only instance of coincidence in the book, I could ignore it, but sadly, the book is riddled with them. Flork, the messenger who recruited Korlin, just happens to be a double agent, who kills the previous Maaka in order for a new one to be reborn. Tekk, Tizrah’s childhood friend, just happens to be a great vessel for a Rune warrior. Everyone in the caravan Korlin and Seri travelled with is brutally murdered by the Vul, but fortuitously, their caravan was filled with gold in order for the dirt-poor duo to inherit their money! Grandal, the bard who manages to rob Seri and Korlin blind early on in the book, appears out of the blue, to for some reason, save them at just the right moment, and strangely doesn’t even bother stealing from their newly fat purses. Alacari, Korlin’s long-lost brother, puzzlingly turns up alive as a member of the assassin’s guild that is hunting down Korlin, and saves their skins. Even the character in the book remarks upon the coincidence, stating, “Right now, ten companies that size are out scouring Belstrom, searching for any sign of you. It’s a miracle that I was the one to find you.”


I would have enjoyed if the author put more of his own spin on the story, instead of rehashing many well-known characters and plotlines. When I initially read the preview of the book, I was excited about the magic system, but unfortunately, that alone was not enough to overcome the book’s lack of character development, the myriad of coincidences, and many unanswered questions about the world and its magic system, as well as its absence of tension.




Book Review - - Mark of Destiny

Posted March 22, 2017 in Book Reviews

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