Thursday, 14 August 2014

Review, Excerpt & Giveaway: The Lost Kingdom — Stephanie Beerden

"A Prophecy made long ago, announced the arrival of the new Ladies of Elements.

And now almost a millennia later, it finally came true …

All her life Arima thought she knew who and what she was. That is until the day of her sixteenth birthday came and her world is turned upside down, when she’s told she’s not a White Witch but Lady Spirit. And that she is the one that has been foretold, will unite the Five Ladies of Elements once again and save Ilendia and the Other Lands from Ahriman, the Demon King.

At first Arima refuses to accept her new fate, but when Shanums come and destroy her village and kill her loved ones, she has no choice but to flee and fall right into the destiny she never wanted. As she grudgingly starts her journey into the unknown, she is accompanied by her unicorn familiar Sirrim, Blythe, a Vampire with a dark past and Myrddin, a mysterious Ljosalfar.

And the longer her journey lasts, the more Arima begins to realise that she can’t escape her own destiny and she must learn to control her powers and learn to be a Lady for the sake of the Sisters she doesn’t know and the people of Ilendia and the Other Lands.

However, things get more complicated when Arima comes into the possession of a key. Her instincts compel her to go towards danger when she discovers that the key she holds, can unlock the legendary kingdom of El├ęssima, the home of the Ladies of Elements.

She will have to make the choice to follow her instincts or stay on the path that has been laid out for her."
— Official Synopsis from Good Reads


Review
    
I was given an ebook copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

Arima is raised as a white witch by her white witch grandmother. She is taught numerous magical skills and even swordfighting by her grandmother’s friend. However, moments before she turns sixteen years old her grandmother tells her she is the Lady Spirit. With a daunting destiny ahead of her Arima must learn to wield her new powers as a Lady and begin her search to find her element sisters in order to unite and defeat the evil king who killed their predecessors so many years ago. She represents hope for all. Can she fulfill her destiny when danger lurks down every path?

What I expected from a book with such a plot was an enchanting, whimsical adventure, but the writing seemed clumsy to me. Having read the ebook cover to cover, I think this might be the result of it being translated into English. For me the narrative seemed to lack a real sense of flow, feeling disjointed in some places, and the dialogue felt awkward and inauthentic. This appears to be Stephanie Beerden’s first novel translated into English and while it feels like a rocky start, I did feel that the writing got better as the book went on. I hope that when the second book in the series is translated, Beerden can can bring a magical flare to her books which I am sure she is capable of.

While the writing may feel a little uneven, the story and the world built by Beerden is impressive in how expansive it is. Although I never really felt the passage of time in this book, it is said that the characters must travel weeks and even months to their destination, which helps the reader get a sense of just how big the lands are. The quest on which Arima is on is long and gruelling, and she is also on a journey of self where she must discover her own powers and train them. She learns both from other characters, books and through her own practice. She is self motivated, but learns to accept the importance of help and advice of others, and I think this makes her a very strong and well rounded female character. 

Arima is also one of the few female characters in fiction worlds who does not fall in love - or even take a fancy to someone romantically. Her mind is consumed with her destiny - finding her sisters, training herself and staying alive. That is not to say she ever says or thinks explicitly that she does not have time to love, she clearly cares deeply for her friends and those who serve the Ladies, but in a purely platonic way. As the priestesses who served the previous Ladies took vows of celibacy, perhap the Ladies of Elements simply do not feel a romantic or passionate attraction for others? 

The characters which Beerden has created did not always resonant with me. Our grandmother figure who loved Arima as her own apparently could not think of a better time or way to tell Arima about her true identity, though she had sixteen years to consider it. Meanwhile, our powerful antagonist’s early dialogue appears a little juvenile due to style choices with capital letters and too much punctuation used to a comical and overblown effect.

I feel the exposition was not always interwoven in the rest of the text, and because of that I feel the story was sometimes interrupted to give the reader important details to help them understand the fantasy world. While I usually don’t mind the ‘learn as you go’ style in books, I feel that when the protagonist already knows all about magic and such, the narrative needs a little break to explain to the reader what the characters already know and this slows things down. I think a way around this would be to pluck out those snippets of information and make it into a prologue which explains the prophecy about the Ladies. It would make for a more epic opening and educate the reader on what things are before they encounter them. I think that would make for a really powerful and enchanting beginning to this fantasy series. 

While even now I’m not quite sure I have a firm grasp of everything within this story, I have to commend the imagination of Beerden who was unafraid to add magical unicorns and a fighting heroine in the same book. That said, the violence at the end feels much gritter than the rest of the book and the swearing seems completely out of sync with the rest of the dialogue. There are also a few references to hell, though within this book I get the impression that there is no hell, but there is a place called the chaos which serves a similar purpose.


Excerpt

Shortly before midnight Bryeia and Gideon called out to her and told her they would be going back home because they had something very important to tell her. The walk to Arima and Bryeia’s house was quiet and tense. It made Arima feel uneasy. Even Rowan was silent and wouldn’t even look at her. After a while, they arrived at the house. The house itself was made out of light brown wood and had a wooden roof with a layer of straw beneath it to insulate it during the winter months. The windows were a bit dirty and the door was worn, but it was home. Bryeia let everybody into the house before shutting the door securely behind her.

They entered the living room; it was cosy with a rectangular table and two chairs. A coloured carpet decorated the floor for a small coffee table, and a rocking chair stood near the window close to the broad window-sill, which had a few small pillows on it because it was Arima’s favourite spot to sit. There were several cabinets and closets against the wall; one of them was a book-case, which held several books and parchment paper, and the other was a long cabinet with closed doors. Arima immediately went to her favourite spot on the window-sill and looked at the other three people in the room, confused as to what was going on.

“Why did we leave so early, Nana?” Arima asked, feeling a bit disappointed. Bryeia and Gideon looked at each other while Rowan pushed himself against a wall and kept his gaze away from hers.

Bryeia hesitantly stepped forward and said, “Arima, there is something I must tell you. Something I am not sure will be easy to accept, but you must know that it is the truth.”

“What is, Nana?” Arima asked, confused.

Bryeia sighed and looked at Gideon , who nodded encouragingly. “Arima, you weren’t abandoned on my doorstep as a baby,” Bryeia started. “I found you in the forest sixteen years ago on the first night of spring, like today … when you fell from the heavens like a falling star.”

“What?” Arima said, looking at Bryeia with wide, unbelieving eyes.

“Arima, you are not a White Witch. I made you that way with a spell I cast on you when you were a baby, to protect you from Ahriman. But I cannot protect you any longer. At midnight tonight, the spell will break, and Ahriman will be able to find you,” Bryeia said. She took a deep breath, while taking Arima’s hands in her own and looked at the hurt and disbelief in the girl’s light-green eyes . “Arima … you … you are Lady Spirit.”


Stephanie Beerden

Stephanie Beerden was born on Friday the 13th (no joke, she really was) in a small city called Genk and has always been fascinated with the occult, magic and books.

Her childhood and teen years were filled with reading lots and lots of books and imagining what life would be like as a vampire. Until one day she decided that she wanted to try her hand at writing her own books and that was the beginning of her writing adventure.

Her first book is a YA Fantasy called De Elementen – Het Verloren Koninkrijk and after many, many trials and tribulations, one small Dutch publisher decided “Hey, let’s give this girl a shot”. Her second book De Elementen – Archandir was published in July 2013 and in April 2014, she indie-published The Lost Kingdom (The Elements Series #1), the English edition of her book.

Stephanie hopes to keep writing for as long as she can and already has several writing projects in the works for the future.



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