The Curse of the Thrax

The Curse of the Thrax

The Curse of the Thrax was first published in 2014 and is the debut novel of Mark Murphy. The story follows a year in the life of Jaykriss, an ordinary fourteen year old boy, after he makes a startling discovery that completely changes his world view. The novel forms the first part of The Bloodsword Trilogy, though at the time of writing this review no further instalments have been announced.

It has been a year since the death of Jaykriss’s father and since then he has been forced to juggle his school work with providing for his mother and sister. In order to do so, Jaykriss and his best friend Marda are forced to regularly head out hunting in the woodlands around there home, putting their lives on the line as they avoid venomous serpents, brutish pig-men and, worst of all, the Thrax – the terrible dragon that devoured his father.

During one eventful hunt, Jaykriss and Marda manage to inadvertently attract the Thrax’s attention. In fleeing from creature, the two boys stumble across a cavern hidden behind a waterfall. The cave is the home of a hermit called Zamarcus and it is from him that they learn the true history of the world. All of the horrible creatures that wander the woods are the result of a man-made biological disaster – one that the local priests claim was divine judgement – and the Dark King that rules them is actually a tyrannical dictator who covets all technology for himself and brands anyone who opposes him as a traitor.

Zamarcus believes that Jaykriss is the prophesised ‘One Who Leads’, the man who is destined to overthrow the Dark King and restore balance to the world, but the teenager has more pressing concerns. The local priests are intent on forcing his mother to remarry and are threatening to take his family home if she does not. In order to save his mother, Jaykriss wants to enter the Mortal Tournament, knowing that if he succeeds he can have a single wish granted. But the contest is dangerous and no one living has ever challenged it. How can Jaykriss hope to survive when he does not even know what form the tournament will take?

The Curse of the Thrax is a good example of how effective a genre flip can be. Although the novel initially feels like a typical medieval high fantasy, when Jaykriss and Marda discover the cavern behind the waterfall it becomes rapidly apparent that this is not the case at all. The story’s setting is our own world, but in the far future. As modern technology is largely unknown to the people of this world, anyone who sets eyes on it believe it to be magic. In a similar vein to Young’s Dust Lands Trilogy, these scientific relics are described through the eyes of the characters and so things that would be readily recognised by us seem ethereal and alien.

Electricity becomes some kind of dark magic, creating light from nothingness, while holograms are viewed as being Ghozim (malevolent spirits). Even places that we would recognise have become the subject of legends, such as the ancient City of At Lanta. While this conceit is not original, Murphy does use it in a fresh and creative way and I found it very interesting to see what elements of our culture had fallen into Zamarcus’s hands and how the other characters reacted to his usage of them.

However, other elements of the novel seemed a little less fresh. The story was unable to shake off some of the more common fantasy tropes and in doing so trod some very worn ground. The idea of a Chosen One is seen in a lot of high fantasy literature – from The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter – and I know that this is a cliché that many find to be incredibly tiresome. Although Murphy did take steps to distance himself from the infallibility of prophecy – stating that it was just the opinion of man and therefore was not necessarily going to come to pass – it did not change the fact that it was a major focus of his novel. Whether or not Jaykriss is actually the One Who Leads may be in question but it does not change the fact that there are some who believe that he is and either hate or revere this.

The idea of a tyrannical Dark King and a world populated by dragons (although the reptilian creatures in this novel are actually genetically modified creatures called vermithrax, they are still dragons in every sense of the word) are also fantasy staples and ones usually best steered clear of. Although some people really dig these plot points, they really do divide readers as there is no denying the fact that we do see them time and time again. The Dark King of The Curse of the Thrax is particularly weak as he does not have any impact on the novel. He does not appear and the only threat he actively displays can be gleamed from the fanatical devotion that the priests hold to him. I presume the Dark King will feature more heavily in the future instalments, but I really did not get any kind of impression of what he will be like from this one.

However, originality aside, the largest problem that I had with the story was its lack of focus. The novel had no clear path of progression. Initially, the focus seemed to be in Jaykriss’s desire to avenge his father and reclaim the Bloodsword (his family heirloom which was left lodged in the Thrax’s shoulder). On discovering Zamarcus, the plot then switched to the prophecy. Then Jaykriss returned home and this plot was forgotten for a while, during which time the novel began to focus on the forced marriage of his mother. Over this time the plot concerning the Thrax was largely forgotten (although the novel’s title included the creature’s name, it only really appeared at the start and end of the story and was not even mentioned during the rest).

The Curse of the Thrax’s many plot threads lead to the overall story seeming diluted and lacking in drive. While some of these threads were left open for the sequel, others were dropped or given hasty and anti-climatic conclusions (particularly the fate of Jaykriss’s mother), in order for the author to rush the focus onto matters. As a result, the novel felt less like a complete novel and more like a collection of sub-plots that followed the same cast over a number of different micro adventures.

However, while the plot was a little weak, the story more than redeemed itself with its characters. The Curse of the Thrax boasts a set of surprisingly well developed main characters, each possessing backstories that influenced their decisions in life. There is a strong underlying theme regarding the importance of family and how the relationship with your parents influences you as a person. Jaykriss is not a warrior like his father was, but he was still greatly inspired by the man’s teachings. These memories help him to overcome the many obstacles that he faces in his journey and come out stronger. Similarly, Marda follows in his father’s footsteps as a great warrior, but he has also inherited his father’s superstitious nature and thus is less able to accept technology as being anything more than witchcraft. Even Zamarcus shows reverence for his father, having chosen life as a hermit in order to respect his father’s belief in the importance of the artefacts of the old world.

When it comes to characterisation, my only disappointment was the lack of strong female protagonists. There was one of note in the story – Sola – who was originally shown to be Marda’s equal with the bow and yet she was largely absent for the large part of the plot. Because of this, I never really grew to really appreciate her as a character and I felt that Jaykriss’s love for her was a little tacked on. How can a reader be expected to care for a character that they have hardly seen? Although Jaykriss seemed very upset when he felt that she was in danger, I never truly shared in his concern. I hope that Sola does get more room for growth in the next novel as it felt that she had a lot of untapped potential as a protagonist in this one.

So, what did I think of The Curse of the Thrax on the whole? Well, honestly, I really enjoyed reading it. The novel was not the most original and the plot was sometimes a little wishy-washy, but it compensated for this with smooth writing, a likable cast and a memorable setting that combined medieval sensibilities with futuristic technology. While this novel was not perfect, I am very curious to see where Murphy will take it in future instalments.

The Curse of the Thrax can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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