Sometimes, I run across a book that is difficult for me to write a review about, usually this is because I hated it so much I could not finish it, but then there are times when the book had all the appropriate elements (action, decent writing, good characters, world building) but for some unknown reason, I could not get into it. An analogy is going out on a first date with someone who is attractive and has all your same interest, but you feel zero spark between you. Why didn’t it work? On eharmony, it looked like the best thing ever, but as you sit there at dinner wondering when this will be over, you can’t stop asking yourself what happened to the damn compatibility algorithms. And that is how I felt after finishing The Trials of the Core. There is not any reason why I did not "connect" with this story, but I just didn’t. I don’t hate it. Rather, the novel left me feeling indifferent. I guess, The Trials of the Core and I had better just stay friends.
Oh, you want me to stop with the dating analogies and tell you about the actual story already?
Sure. No problem.
Anyway, The Trials of the Core is a genre bender of science fiction and fantasy as dreamed up by author Michael Thies. Here he gifts his readers with a universe that has a dash of Harry Potter, a little bit of Star Wars and a whole lot of intrigue circa The Hunger Games.
Far, far away in a distant solar system spin five, diverse planets. Upon these shining globes are a host of nations - each with their own distinct inhabitants and cultures - that together form a system spanning imperium ruled over by a "Guardian," who protects and governs his subjects. However, even an all powerful Guardian of the Core cannot rule forever, and since the current Guardian is closing in on his 200th year, he determines to seek out an apprentice to beginning training as his ultimate successor. To find this protégée, invitations are sent out to the brightest of the bright among the intergalactic kingdom; these select people to compete in a grueling series of trials that will sort the strong from the weak.
Since there can be only one apprentice to the Guardian, each of the contestant is desperate to win for their own individual reasons, and so the plot line becomes who will ultimately triumph in this intrigue filled contest and to what lengths will the participants go to be the last person standing?
While this fight among youths echoes the plot of some other popular books, Michael Thies does a good job of making this a different sort of competition. Sure, there are a few deaths - not all of them accidental, but by and large, the majority of this novel is about getting to know the characters and seeing them deal with this immense pressure. A reader learns about their pasts, their strengths and weaknesses, their reasons for competing, and their unique abilities, which run the gamut from elemental magic to physical strength to mental dexterity. They exhibit perseverance and courage as well as unbridled ambition. They form alliances against one another, wage internal feuds, and form friendships that some of them are more than willing to discard if necessary to further their drive toward becoming the Guardian’s apprentice.
As the story progresses, a reader is left to twist as to who is going to ultimately win this contest. Will it be one of the royals, who have been groomed their whole life to be Guardian? Or will one of the brainiacs ultimately triumphs? How about the offspring of a famous warrior, who is desperate to exit his father’s immense shadow? Or will the underdog commoner, who possess no great skills but is in the contest nonetheless, find a way to rise above his less-than-stellar origins and become the ruler of the imperium?
On the whole, The Trials of the Core had the makings of an interesting story. It had immense worlds to explore, different viewpoints, "flawed" characters who are as individually compelling as they are repugnant, and unique magic/technology. However, there were a few issues that detracted from my enjoying of this novel.
1) After reading the book, I still have no idea what the Guardian of the Core is. All I know is that it is very important and has immense powers that come along with it. Other than that, I have no idea. After a whole novel, I should vaguely understand why all these people are willing to die to obtain this position.
2) There needs to be an appendix with maps, family genealogies, and other important information. While I muddled through everything, I prefer some reference material if the story has lots of world building and numerous characters. This could be just me being picky however.
In summation, if you are a fan of genre bending novels, this unique and unconventional book might be just what you are looking for. Michael Thies writes in a clear and concise voice, and the story moves along rapidly, shifting seamlessly between its various viewpoints as you experience these gifted youths fighting for the right to be the ruler of their worlds. While it is definitely young adult faire, I could envision more mature people liking this one as well.
Netgalley provided this book to me for free in return for an honest review. The review above was not paid for or influenced in any way by any person, entity or organization, but is my own personal opinions.