Book Review: Farmers and Mercenaries by M.A. Drake
Review by Prof. Jenn
You may have enjoyed my mini-interview with Maxwell Alexander Drake recently. Here’s my list-like rundown of what I thought of his first book in the Genesis of Oblivion saga.

What I liked:

  • Unusual, interesting Fantasy races beyond the standard Dwarves, Elves, Humans and Halflings.
  • Each chapter is in third person limited, from different characters’ POVs. So we get little blocks stacked slowly and the story builds its suspense this way by limiting who knows what, when, and when we as readers then know it.
  • It’s one of those tense plots that makes a reader try and predict what’s going on before she learns it for sure, which is fun especially if one is a nerd.
  • Interesting and fun maps to look at before one plunges into the storyline. I dunno, I like maps. Especially of cities.
  • Clytus Rillion.
  • The fact that the magical race of beings? Almost always speak in questions, yes? It makes them stand out and oddly adds to their mystery, yes?
  • Drake sure does know how to write an action scene. Anyone who takes his action scene writing workshops are learning from someone who practices it as well as he no doubt teaches it.

What I didn’t like:

  • The clunky, difficult Fantasy dialect. I’m not one who easily gets tripped up on words foreign to me, or odd names, but if I were, this book would be unreadable. As it is, the Fantasy-world dialect created here reads like badly spelled British at best (“leftenant”, “morn” and “eve”, and the famously LeGuin-detested “mayhap”), over-apostrophe-d pseudo Elvish at worst (Chandril’elian, Elmorr’Antien, etc. etc.). It’s so clunky in fact that it gets in the way of the storytelling.
  • Cliched characters and events: now as Fantasy is definitely influenced by fairy tales and folklore, and as literature, it’s all influenced by everything that came before, one will definitely find homages and echoes in even the greatest examples. I’m not saying that just because there’s a Roke, there shouldn’t be a Hogwarts, and I’m not saying that just because there’s a Luke Skywalker, there shouldn’t be a Kvothe. Or that anyone shouldn’t totally model their mysterious warriors off Boba Fett and ancient ninja, or their heroic quest after the Hero’s Journey. What I’m saying is: there’s homage and bricolage and being a part of the continuing story, and then there’s cliche. Farmers and Mercenaries actually has both, but the cliches are more frequent than the other. I happen to really like the character of Clytus Rillion, and enjoy the mystery of what the Tat’Sujen are (ack, more apostrophes), but the character of Arderi is more cliche than Arthurian. Just as one example.
  • The dialogue is riddled with anachronisms and out-of-character-isms. Sometimes a character will sound like an awkward Ren Faire actor, and then will utter a phrase right out of 2012 America the next moment. Only Clytus really has a distinct voice (the Elmorr’Antien do as well, but they all sound the same).
  • I like to think that the reason there were so many spelling errors is that this is a reviewer’s copy that hasn’t passed through all its phases of proofreading, even though it doesn’t say so on the cover.

Thanks to Imagined Interprises for the review and interview opportunity! Read my interview with the author here. And of course at my own blog.

Bottom Line: Try Farmers and Mercenaries, and if you can manage to not put it down in frustration, you might be able to enjoy the quest.
~Prof. Jenn