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Snakewood by Adrian Selby

Snakewood by Adrian Selby
Book Name: Snakewood
Author: Adrian Selby
Publisher(s): Orbit
Formatt: Hardback / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: March 2016

Snakewood is one of those books that will have plenty of fans and plenty of haters too. When an author tries to do something unique or far-reaching it will either impress you or turn you off.

The ‘magic system’ in Snakewood means that there is a great deal of mind/body altering substances (potions) in use. The potions act as a kind of steroid and improve your strength/fighting ability in various ways – it does take a while for the variety available to become clear. With this in mind, the strange/abstract prose suit the world quite well, as does the disjointed way the narrative is provided (the exploration into the short-term gain of drug-use versus the long-term health implications are obvious). However, readers should be ready for the fragmentary experience provided and it would seem, based on many of the Goodreads reviews that come before this one, few were. Perhaps this is because the sample chapter provided seemed a bit like Name of the Wind or Jeff Salyard’s Bloodsounder’s Arc (a chronicler capturing a story) and the cover looks kind of Brent Weeks or Trudi Canavan like.

The storyline is pretty intriguing. You’ve got a band of mercenaries (Kailen’s Twenty) who, back in the day, lived life as legends. The crew worked together with an unmatched level of cleverness, planning, strength, brutality and ‘magic’ (via their potions). They are older now, broken and broken up too, but it seems someone has decided that each of the former mercenaries need to be taken out. Could this be for revenge? Could someone be trying to make a name for themselves? Betrayal quickly seems most likely… but why?

The answer to this question is provided to us gradually through multiple first person in the form of diary entries from various members of the Twenty. This is perhaps what causes most of the confusion and perhaps a reason why multiple first person is so rare in SFF. Each character has a different level of ability in terms of grammar and their ability to convey events isn’t always… up to standard. The events they describe are not always in order, so you do need to remember what happened, when it happened and place the events into that timeline as they are relayed. Additionally, the chronicler and characters are writing their account for someone within the world Selby has created, which means we readers are left – initially – a bit baffled by the terminology, mechanics of the magic systems, places, people, things, etc. The final trouble is that the chronicler who has put this tome together hasn’t been consistent in terms of whether he provides us with context before an entry or not…

Now, there will be people reading this and licking their lips. If you enjoy books with a steep learning curve or consider yourself Sherlock Holmes then I can’t see you being all that rocked by this one. Personally, I’m more Watson. I need things explained to me and when they are I need time to reflect. So, essentially, I think this is a book that I need to read again knowing what I know now, which is my excuse for this half-baked review. I think we sometimes take for granted the fantasy books by authors such as Brandon Sanderson, Peter V. Brett, Robin Hobb, etc who basically give us a ‘how to’ guide to their world in chapters 1-5. In the case of Snakewood (does that could as a pun?), once you get past the first third of the book and you have Selby’s characters, world and potion-system figured out there is a lot to enjoy, especially if you are a fan of the dark, gritty, old-soldier stories.

2016 is an exciting time for Fantasy. The popularity of the genre means that publishers are able to pick up books that aren’t exactly like whatever else is out there already (i.e. aren’t clones of other top performing novels). Although Snakewood may not have been my cup of tea, I can certainly see that there will be readers out there who appreciate Selby’s boldness and willing to try something completely different.

Here’s a sample, so you can check out the opening:

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