The Spectra Unearthed

The Spectra Unearthed was written by Christie Valentine Powell and first published in 2015. It is a fantasy story which focuses on three magical-using princesses on a mission to save their kingdoms from a cruel invading force. The novel forms the first part of The Spectra: Keita’s Wings series and is followed by The Spectra United (2016).

Keita Sage was never a very good princess. Really, she couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. However, that was before the Stygians attacked. They overwhelmed all six of the kingdoms, murdering the Kings and seizing control in the name of their leader, a man known only as Donovan. Now, Keita is on the run. She knows that she has to find a way to save her brother, trapped behind the fortified walls of the Summit. She just doesn’t know how.

It’s not long until she is captured by Jasper – a former friend of her brother who has thrown in his lot with the enemy. Jasper swears that he only wants to keep her safe but has a strange way of showing it. With the help of a Nome girl – Sienna – Keita manages to escape and reunite herself with two other renegade princesses – Zuri and Carli.

As the four girls travel across the arid desert of the Nomelands, they encounter a group of rebels who are intent on protecting Crossovers – orphaned children who had been abandoned for possessing different magical powers to their parents. Keita can see that this colony has little chance of standing up to Jasper’s might but still knows that she has to do everything in her power to help them. Yet what chance does she have against an army of Stygians, each of whom possess the magical abilities of all of the six factions?

Before I begin, I’d just like to say that I don’t like giving negative reviews. I’ve had a really bad run of books lately and, if you’ve just started following me, you might be thinking that I have nothing good to say. In the case of this book, I can see that it’s had a number of positive reviews on Goodreads. While mine is not one of them, it’s entirely possible that I’m missing something. If you’re curious about the premise of this novel, I’d suggest giving it a try. I’d be curious to know what you think.

The basic premise of The Spectra Unearthed, while a little generic, did show some promise. The tone of the story felt a bit like a cross between the work of Tolkien and Avatar: The Last Airbender. However, I personally felt that the novel struggled most in its execution. It’s a book that throws its reader in at the deep-end, opening with Keita’s escape from Jasper’s dungeon. It’s here that the problems with the world-building immediately begin to show.

New words and concepts are instantly thrown at the reader, from the magic system to the politics of the world to the very nature of the enemy. There is no everyman character in this story, so the reader is forced to try very quickly piece things together from heavy-handed expository dialogue.

“If this was really about saving old friends, why didn’t you track him down?”

“He’s too…” Jasper hesitated, and then went on, “Glen is too well protected. Stygians can’t enter the Summit after we take our oaths. You know that.”

This kind of dialogue never feels natural in a novel. It doesn’t mirror the way a person would talk in real life, as it’s a conversation held entirely for the benefit of the reader and not the characters. While it is necessary to exposit things in a fantasy story, it’s always better to show rather than tell. In this novel there is a lot of telling, and yet it’s never about the things that I actually wanted to learn more about.

Despite the huge amount of expository text, some key concepts are never explained to reader. We know (because we are told) that Stygians are bad and can use every school of magic, but that is all we do learn. We never see exactly what they are, where they come from, or how people become them. The magic system in the story was also poorly introduced and seemed heavily unbalanced. Some of the races just seems to be massively more powerful than others.

For example, Coles are described as being dominant over Sprites. This kind of makes sense, as Coles are fire mages while Sprites have power over nature. However, the only powers that we see Coles using in the story are fire bending and flight (which is apparently very rare). Sprites, on the other hand, are ridiculously over-powered. Keita describes herself as being a poor student and yet she displays the ability to heal (herself and others), make plants grow, shape-shift into several different animals and birds, produce oxygen, have super strength and does not need to eat. Her only real weakness seems that she loses strength if kept in the dark, which only effects Keita twice over the course of the novel. Really, being a Sprite just seems to make you better than everyone else.

The plot of the novel also lacks focus, with the four teenage protagonists just seeming to meander through the wilderness until the vague story about the colony finds them. They don’t seem to have any clear goal in mind beyond somehow beating the Stygians, and I was a bit at a loss as to how they came to be on the run in the first place. Firstly, they don’t seem to really be running from anyone. Secondly, it is never explained how Jasper came to capture Keita in the first place. The villains of the story are also strangely absent for most of the plot. The reader is told that Donovan is frightening but never shown why, and the vague indication that he intends to assault the Summit never amounts to anything.

And then, there are the characters. The cast of this story is massive, but I didn’t find any of them to be very memorable. This was a shame, as the primary cast are all female which is a rarity in high fantasy stories, and so I did want to root for them. None of them really had any distinguishing characteristics beyond their different schools of magic. Even the animosity between Carli and Sienna just fades away after the first couple of chapters, and surprisingly little is made of the fact that Keita, Carli and Zuri have all been forced into arranged marriages. We don’t even meet any of their husbands-to-be in this story.

The true villain of the novel – Donovan – doesn’t even make his presence known until the last couple of chapters. This was just weak. While I appreciate the lengths that Powell went to in order to make this warlord seem ordinary, it lost effect due to the fact that we never saw him do anything especially monstrous over the course of the story. And after his introduction (and brief monologue), he just sort of leaves again. Hopefully, we’ll see more of him in the sequel and learn just what the Stygians actually are.

Anyhow, I think I’ve said enough. All in all, this just wasn’t the fantasy story for me. Too much time was spent on exposition and too little on building likeable characters. With a stronger focus, this could have been an interesting addition to the high fantasy genre. However, I ultimately found it to be too long and bit forgettable on the whole.

The Spectra Unearthed can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Spectra United | Arkham Reviews

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