Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Bookwyrm's Review of The First Fear by M. S. Olney

Author: M. S. Olney

Length: 388 Pages/ 8 hours, 52 minutes (Audio)

Release Date: June 22, 2018/ January 23, 2019 (Audio)

Publisher: M. S. Olney

Narrator: Alister Austin

Series: The Empowered Ones, Book One

Genre: Dark Fantasy

This is one of those books I got an early peak at, but was so overbooked I just didn't get a chance to finish it. When the audio book released, I knew I had to give it a listen. Its a good thing I did, because this was a story worth hearing. Taking a lot of the tropes of the last 20 years, the author takes bits of them, mixes them up in a blender, and makes them his own unique thing.


In a totalitarian empire, ruled for the last 300 years by the all powerful ruler, known as the Supreme, any dissent is dealt with in a draconian manner. The empire is basically a slave empire, with the vast majority of the population being slaves to the various nobles, who treat the slaves mercilessly to be able to afford the Empress's tribute. Life is cheap, and this is the society Elian was born into. Elian is the son of a serf carpenter, meaning he is free, within limitations. As a small kid, even at 15, he is picked on by the bigger kids of his village. He is often protected from the beatings by his best friend, Lizella. 

After a prank as revenge against the bigger boys goes horribly wrong, Elian and Lizella end up on the run from the Supreme's enforcers when Elian develops powers in the stress dealing with the prank's aftermath, which draws the Supreme's forces after them. Now on the run, Elian and Lizella escape, only to foolishly be captured by slavers. Lizella faces life in a pleasure house, while Elian can look forward to a quick death in the gladiator pits, neither a fate they'd wish on anyone.

While on the road to the slave market, the slave train is attacked by rebels, and Lizella is freed. Escaping with the rebels, she goes with them back to their camp, only to end up on the run again after they are attacked. Elian is still captured, though, and ends up sold to a gladiator troop. He ends up training to be sword fodder, but his emerging powers, based around emotions creating different effects, means he doesn't die as expected. It turns out Elian is a rarity known as an Emergent, which means he can use more than one emotion to create magic effects. as opposed to a gifted, who can only use one emotion.  

This all leads to a great confrontation down the road, as the rebels manage to take the city and the Supreme brings her forces to bear. She sends her head enforcer, the dreaded Hollow known as the First Fear, after Elian, as the Supreme's army attacks the rebel fortifications. This climactic battle leads to revelations about who and what Elian is, as well is who is behind the rebellion and the potential to defeat the Supreme.


While there is very strong worldbuilding in this book, characters are it's real strength. The main characters are well written, with strengths and flaws, giving them fully formed personalities. Elian and Lizella get the most attention, being the main characters, but even the secondary characters are given fully formed personalities, with their own triumphs, flaws and motivations. The villains fit within the world they are created in, with motivations and actions that fit the narrative.  

The world building is quite intense and detailed. A slave empire, it is a harrowing life for the inhabitants. The magic system , and its rarity, is quite creative. The magic being created through the use of emotion to create specific effects, with varying levels of power depending on the emotional severity, can result in some wildly creative scenes. The struggle against the oppressive system, and the mystery behind it, is also intriguing.


This is one of those stories that hook you from the outset. Using tropes in a creative way isn't always easy, but the author manages it nicely. Fans of Brandon Sanderson should especially enjoy this story, as will fans of dark, gritty fantasy. It will be interesting to see where the story goes from this point.

Rating: 4.75/5

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