Some time ago I submitted Tarnish to a big book review blog-off, initiated by celebrated fantasy writer Mark Lawrence, author of the Broken Empire series. My book went in a big batch of others to Bob R Milne, who has a reputation as a big-time book reviewer. You can see his shining review of Tarnish and four more indie book here: Beauty in Ruins.
Here's what he had to say about Tarnish:
This is a very odd book to talk about - on the surface, it just shouldn’t work. We have multiple narrators, between whom we switch more for narrative effect than the needs of the story. We have a distinct coming-of-age story (which I’ve long since grown tired of), where the hero hides behind the persona of who he’d like to be. We have storytelling within the story, a kind of intrusive info-dumping that interferes with the forward progression of the plot. Finally, we have a plot that seems to wander without a clear direction for much of the book, before suddenly finding its direction and racing to a climax.
Despite all that, it worked. The narrative was strong – from the language, to the dialogue, to the imagery. Brink isn’t afraid to write lengthy paragraphs and scenes, to take his time setting things up, and to show us his world. That, to me, is engaging. It draws me in, makes me read a bit more closely, and gives the appearance of depth (which, it must be said, is not merely appearance). As for the characters, the hardest aspect of writing a novel is to encourage that immediate emotional connection, to draw readers in, and make them care - and Brink does that very well. I liked Billy from the first time we met. He interested me, intrigued me, and made me want to know more about him. There was this welcome duality to him that allowed him to play the hero very well, even as he grew into the role. It’s less a coming-of-age tale and more a story of self-discovery.
There’s a lot of imagination and fantasy flourishes here as well that really caught my attention. Even small, throw-away scenes like the dream of monsters inside the tavern are full of fantastic detail, allowing you to not just ‘see’ the danger but ‘feel’ it as well. That element of storytelling within the story really won me over. It allows for things to get a bit wild, a bit over-the-top, without dragging down the credibility of the entire story. We expect people to embellish their tales of heroism because we want to be entertained as much as we want to be informed, and Brink clearly understands that.
It’s not just mindless heroism and adventure, however. There’s also a heart to the novel, a very self-aware sort of appreciation for humanity and the horrors of war. Towards the end of the story, Billy stands before an advancing army of swamp monsters and asks himself, “How monstrous can they be if they mourn?” It’s a good question, and it leads into the final evolution of Wil (the hero) coming to terms with being Billy (the boy). Sure, I would have liked a little more world building, and I would have liked more of a sense of the wider world, but those are minor quibbles to be resolved in a second book. All-in-all, Tarnish is a solid tale, a classic sort of heroic adventure that’s really pulls all the elements together in a satisfying resolution.