The Wretched of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I recently found Jeff Wheeler completely by accident when Amazon was doing a promotional push of his new Kingfountain series. I was intrigued by his “clean fantasy” branding (honestly, I’m a bit over grimdark), and an interview he did in “hostile territory” at the Grim Tidings Podcast showed him to be an intelligent, interesting man.
So I came into this series with every intention of loving it.
The beginning was pretty good. It reminded me of the first chapters of Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song, but with a compelling female lead. The magic system (“a fantasy version of the Force”) was interesting, and the opening action scene (featuring a huge stone hanging in midair) left me breathless.
But halfway through the book, I got this odd feeling that I was missing something. That there was more to all this than merely a fantasy story. The Medium, in particular, (the “Force” in this world) was acting in ways that made me squirmy. Could it be? Was I being preached to?
Well, maybe. I have to say that, as a former seminarian, I’m pretty well versed in the religions of the world. So when I found out that Jeff Wheeler is a bishop in the LDS church, that explained a lot to me. Is Mr. Wheeler intentionally using his story to preach his faith to others? I don’t think so. I think his faith just spills out in his fiction, because it can’t not spill out him.
In that sense, I don’t think that his books are Mormon allegories (like Narnia is most definitely a Christian allegory). Rather, I think he’s more of the Tolkien school, where the Catholicity of the author comes out to the discerning reader, but never smacks people over the head.
So that’s not why the book is only a tepid three stars. As much as I wanted to love the story, I was never fully carried away. I read it quickly and without stopping much, but the ending was very “deus ex machina,” and honestly I never felt that the lead characters were in any danger. It’s a problem with clean fiction, because the easy route of violence to create tension isn’t usable. In this book at least, I though the author didn’t quite manage it.
But I’m reading book 2 with pleasure, so I do recommend this series. I’m curious to see how it turns out.