The Blackgloom Bounty by Jon F. Baxley is Mr. Baxley's first foray into the fantasy genre. The second book in this series is titled The Regents of Rhum and is forthcoming, no exact publication date as of yet. The series is set in Britain, albeit with a fantasy medieval twist. This is evident in the verbiage characters use, as well as landmarks they talk about. I was a little hesitant at first, as traditionally fantasy books set on Earth don't work well with the style of fantasy I like. However, Mr. Baxley mixes the two almost seamlessly and allows the reader immerse themselves in the story while using the area as nothing more than an anchor. I barely noticed it was earth, and when I did it did not detract from the story at all.
The plot of this book, is actually several plots interspersed among several subplots. The main story arc follows a young man who becomes caught up in a series of events that are out of his control, but are also very important to his destiny. One of the subplots is that of a noble seeking revenge for a deed done on his family. Another subplot is that of one of the characters trying to plan for the eventual downfall of a foe, and how he maneuvers others into actions to help him accomplish this. Yet another subplot is that of a long lost `hero' who is now back and seeking to decimate all who helped in his clan's downfall. There are a couple other subplots as well, but delving into those may be possible spoilers and I would not want to do that. Suffice it to say, this novel is deep in plot and the various plots tie-in to each other fairly well. The one downfall of having all these interwoven plots is that, at times, I had a little trouble discerning what was what and who was doing what. It took a paragraph or more to remember each angle.
The characters are well written, but do suffer from clichés at times. For instance, the character Kurzurk is an old magician that, when needed, has many answers. The character of Brude is pretty much a one dimensional fighter bent on revenge. The main character Daynin is the clichéd young man finding his destiny with the help of a select group of people. Finally, there is the obligatory love interest, Sabritha. Excluding the clichéd characters, they are interesting. In fact, my two personal favorites are Brude and Sabritha. Aside from Daynin, there is not a great deal of character development. For the most part, the characters that start the novel end pretty much the same way. I was a little disappointed in this as I was expecting, partly due to the size of the novel 438 pages, there would have been more. This seems to be a story that is mostly carried by the strength of the story and not the strength of the characters. Don't get me wrong though, the characters, aside from the clichés, are not bad it just seems they could have been more behind them.
I do have two criticisms about this novel.
Firs, as I have already mentioned, the lack of depth in the characters. By and large, I felt the characters were pulled along in this book by the story. The little character development, aside from Daynin was also mildly disappointing.
Secondly, the set up of the book is such that each chapter holds multiple points of view. It is easy to know when the point of view shifts, however these shifts happen very fast and occur many times in a single chapter. To me, while I was reading this novel, it almost seemed too much. I am wondering if the novel would not have been better served by having smaller chapters focusing on an individual point of view, or maybe even having one chapter contain only two points of view. It made it feel somewhat frenetic paced and at times actually slowed down my reading so I could comprehend what was going on.
Mr. Baxley writes a solid prose, that is both fluid and rich. He allows the reader to see his vision, but to also use their respective imagination to fill in the rest of the details. Some authors try to cram so many details into their novels that it almost handcuffs the reader into seeing only the vision of the author and nothing else. That is not the case here, Mr. Baxley balances both in a very effective manner.
When all is said an done, this is a solid novel. For a first time fantasy author, this is a highly polished book with a very well written plot. Is this a perfect novel? No. However, there is enough quality here, that I will be revisiting these characters in their adventures in the next installment, and hopefully more after that. Every novel is a learning experience, and I am very curious to see how Mr. Baxley has grown as an author. I think this would be a very good book for the casual fantasy fan. It would also be a good novel for those fantasy fans who are able to look past the clichéd characters. All in all, an enjoyable read. If I had the opportunity I would rate this as a 3.5 out of five.