The Kingdom Lights

The Kingdom Lights

The Kingdom Lights is the debut novel of English author Steven V.S. and was first published in 2014. It is a fantasy story with a vaguely steampunk setting which focuses on a twelve year old boy who has just discovered that he possesses magical powers. Although the novel reads as though it is the first part of a series, at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Celes Vale has always longed to be an Invoker but it is not until his twelfth birthday that his dream becomes a reality, making him the first Invoker born into a non-magical family for many years. In order to help him control his powerful gifts, he is sent away from his beloved home town of Midgard to live with his Aunt and Uncle in the city of Gardarel, the Kingdom Lights. Here, he is enrolled in a special school which will teach him magical theory in preparation for the following year when he will be sent to a school for Invokers.

However, Celes soon discovers that he is not welcome in Gardarel. The other Invokers all come from very wealthy families and he is looked down upon for his low birth. Although he soon finds himself the target of Marcus Blackwood and his gang of bullies, Celes soon assembles his own group of outcast friends. These include Imogen (the non-magical daughter of a local merchant), a Wisp named Zephyr who possesses his own kind of powerful magic and two furry creatures – Amirus and Jakus – who belong to a race called the Scurriers.

As Celes settles into life in Gardarel, he discovers that he has arrived in the city at a time of political upheaval. Thirteen years previously, a revolution was squashed and its instigator – Lord Lyons – is finally being returned to the Gardarel for his execution. As Celes and his friends explore the city they stumble across a plot to free the Lord and restart the revolution. As no one will believe their story, it’s up to Celes and his friends to discover who is responsible and stop them before anyone can get hurt.

The Kingdom Lights was a novel that I really wanted to like. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of the steampunk aesthetic and the blurb of the book on Amazon made me curious about reading it. At first, it maintained my interest rather well. I felt as though I was really thrown into the deep end of an immersive fantasy world. Nothing was spoon-fed to the reader as the story focused on Celes who, as someone who had lived his whole life in Midgard, needed nothing explained to him. The problem was that, as I got deeper into the novel, I realised that nothing was ever going to be explained.

Finding a balance in fantasy world-building is incredibly difficult. If you try to impart too much background information to your reader, you wind up with a novel that’s too exposition heavy and dull to read. If you impart too little, you wind up with a novel that feels vague and unengaging. Unfortunately, the world of The Kingdom Lights leaned too far to the latter. While I did get the impression that the author had thought long and hard about his world, I felt as though this novel barely scratched its surface.

Nothing in The Kingdom Lights is ever explained or described. I never got an impression of what the characters or settings looked like. I never got a real feel of what the level of technology of the world was like (machines seem to run on a mixture of magic and crystals but nothing was explained beyond this). The magic system was not shown until two thirds of the way through the story and even then its limitations were never explained. Factions such as Caridan’s Order and the Lunar Guard got name dropped but I was never really clear on who they were or what they stood for. I was not even sure what the Wardens (the villians of the story) rebelled against. It was clear that they did not like the way that Gardarel was being run but I don’t think the novel ever explored what about it that they did not like. There are so many aspects here that the author could have expanded on to make his world feel more solid and unique. Unfortunately, all of these were pushed into the background in favour of a tried and tested formula.

The Harry Potter series has a lot to answer for. The stories took the world by storm and even the few who haven’t read them now know the basic plot. Twelve year old boy from poor background discovers he is the chosen one of the wizarding world and is taken away to a magical school. While the setting of The Kingdom Lights could have been developed into something unique and memorable, the plot was nothing new at all. Even the Wardens were kind of reminiscent of the Death Eaters. Celes’s similarity with the Boy Who Lived is distractingly obvious, yet this was not the only thing about this plot that stood out for me.

As you might have noticed, I am a huge geek. I’ve been a gamer for my entire life among my favourite game franchises is the Final Fantasy series (well, the series up to Final Fantasy IX anyway, but that’s a discussion for another blog). There was so much of this story that felt as though it had been lifted directly from Final Fantasy. Magic in Celes’s world comes from crystals, just as it did in the early Final Fantasy games. The magic allows Invokers to summon creatures from other worlds and engage in Pokémon-style battles, which is very much like the summon magic of Final Fantasy (Celes even calls upon Phoenix a couple of times who is a summon creature in many of the games). On top of this, the Wisps are virtually identical to Black Mages in appearance, the Mosleys are very reminiscent of Chocobos (except one says “Wahh” and the other says “Wark”) and there is even a cameo from a character named Cid (a running theme in the Final Fantasy universe). There are more similarities than this, probably too many for it to be just a coincidence, and for me this was a major distraction. As when I read City of Bones, I just found it difficult to focus on the novel when I was just counting off references in the back of my mind.

In terms of characterisation, I also found the cast to be a little shallow. As with the setting, the author seemed to be trying to cram a lot into his story but did so at the expense of depth. The cast of The Kingdom Lights was huge but were not presented in any kind of detail. Many of them (including Celes’s family, Arthur and Phoenix) fade from the story and receive little mention after the early chapters. Those that remain just feel like cut-outs. Although we are occasionally told little things about them (like Jakus’s affection for Juliette and Zephyr’s shyness), they are not afforded the page-space required to develop these characteristics into personalities.

Celes was a particularly non-descript Harry Potter-style hero. Although he has absurdly strong magic, the novel never reveals why. Perhaps the author intends to explore this in a future novel but the lack of explanation of Celes’s abilities made him a bit of a Gary-Stu in this story. He was portrayed as being special, yet we were never told how he came to be that way. However, the most disappointing character for me was Imogen. As the only important female character in the novel, I wanted to her to be interesting. Unfortunately, Imogen did nothing within the story. She contributed very little to the plot and was noticeably absent in the climax. I know that she was not magical like Celes and Zephyr but surely she could have still played some part. Series like Avatar: The Last Airbender have taught us that even non-magical characters can still be interesting within a magical setting.

There was one bit of characterisation that I did find really interesting but it’s a major spoiler and so I can’t talk much about it here. When Lord Lyons was described within the story, I got the impression that he was going to be a Voldemort-esque “Dark Lord” character and I was pleased to find that there was a lot more to him than this. I’ll say no more (you’ll have to read the story to find out why) but let’s just say that he’s not the kind of character that I was expecting.

Anyhow, I’m rambling as usual so I’ll conclude. The Kingdom Lights has some interesting ideas and, if they had been nurtured a little more, it could have been a really unique story. Unfortunately, I got the feeling that the author barely scratched the surface of his world. What he presented instead was a story that reads as a merging of Harry Potter and Final Fantasy with little by way of descriptions and character building. I really hope that future novels in this series delve deeper into the inner workings of Gardarel as this could make a more engaging read but I was unfortunately not gripped by this instalment.

The Kingdom Lights 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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