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Reign and Ruin (Mages of the Wheel #1) by J.D. Evans - SPFBO 7 Finalist Book Review

Write on: Tue, 29 Mar 2022 by  in SPFBO Reviews 31 comments Read 1195

For my final SPFBO 7 finalist review, here is Reign and Ruin by J.D. Evans

Beginnings and endings. That is why there must be balance. To relieve the terrible with the beautiful, to make the beautiful more precious, for the threat of its absence. 

What It’s About:

The Wheel has been broken for some time. The six houses act alone and are oftentimes hostile against one another. But the threat of the Republic grows each day, and with it, fear of each house either being annihilated or having to reluctantly join the enemy. Naime, Sultana of Tamar seeks to bring balance and order to the Wheel; Makram, Agassi – or prince – of Sarkum is loyal to his brother’s rule, but desperately wants peace and an alliance that would benefit his people. Numerous forces, both from outside of their nations and from within, will stop at nothing to prevent this alliance, and maneuver their own plans across the political board. 

What I Liked:

The character development is top notch. I’d like to first discuss the two strongly crafted protagonists: Naime and Makram. Both presented with their own uniquely distinct voice and demeanor, they share some similarities that unravel as their motives are made clear and their relationship develops. Naime is wise, calculating, and by her own subduing, carries within her immense magical power; Makram is loyal, intelligent, and by his own subduing, carries within him immense magical power. See where I’m going with this? These two characters are fleshed out so thoroughly that they stand on their own and can carry any scene they’re in without the other, but their similarities make them a force to be reckoned with.

But that’s not all. The supporting cast are just as interesting. Each is written with such care that despite their smaller roles (though not small roles), they all grow into complex, fully-developed characters. My particular favorites would be the snarky but faithful Tareck, and, dare I say it, the scheming and smarmy Grand Vizier Kadir.

A Middle Eastern-inspired fantasy with an intriguing magic system. I read on the author’s website that her trip to Beirut inspired this novel, and it shows. The amount of research that must have gone into the creation of these characters and their homes must have been exhausting. But it paid off. This is a unique fantasy simply based on the setting alone, but the magic system is equally as compelling. Each of the six houses of the Wheel controls an element. While each house can only wield one type of magic, it is clear that balance needs to be restored to the Wheel, and that the six houses, working in tandem, have the potential to restore what is right and good. So cool!

The political maneuvering and scheming – both from the villains and the heroes is highly entertaining, and never predictable. I really don’t want to give too much away here, so I’ll just say this: there are multiple chapters involving council meetings in Tamar that had me wondering when the last time had been that I had read something so engaging and brimming with hard-hitting, manipulative political debates, and plenty of jaw-dropping “oh shit!” moments. 

What Didn’t Do It For Me:

The romance was, at times, a bit too much. I knew this was a romance fantasy novel – a particular sub-genre that I have no experience with – going into the reading; however, there were many occasions while reading Reign and Ruin in which I felt overwhelmed by how much of the plot revolved around the romance aspect, making it seem almost forced, or unnatural at times. 

The Republic barely feels like a threat. I would assume that the Republic will probably be more heavily involved in later books, but for a major plot to be balancing the Wheel in order to be able to protect itself from the Republic, I found it odd that no physical interaction with the Republic ever occurs in the novel – not even emissaries sent out to Tamar or Sarkum to put the fear of God into the hearts of our protagonists. The threat is only mentioned by name a few times throughout the book; the real threats for this novel (which were great), came from within. I would, however, have liked to have at least felt some sort of fear or anxiety along with the characters with regards to the Republic, but that’s hard to manage with no physical representation.

Reign and Ruin is a great debut novel with a lot of potential for an ongoing series. I look forward to book two!

SPFBO 7 Rating for Reign and Ruin:

8.5/10

Last modified on Monday, 23 May 2022 15:27
Max

Max’s passion for fantastic stories began with weekly trips to the comic book store as a child. Now an English teacher at a boarding school, he is always reading. Max has written for sites like Geeks of Doom and SF Signal, where he created the Indie Author Spotlight. Max lives in Connecticut with his wife – who graciously embraces his need to display action figures all over the house – and daughter, who is inheriting her parents’ affinity for books. 

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