Worldbuilding Through Characterization

Worldbuilding Through Characterization


One Way by S. J. Morden

One Way


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The Reborn King by Michael Miller

The Reborn King by Michael Miller
Book Name: The Reborn King
Author: Michael Miller
Publisher(s): Acorn Independant Press
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: November 10, 2015

I’m an impulsive book buyer, usually drawn to a shiny cover and 99c sales like my wife is to shoes and handbags. If my one-click finger itched any more, you would think I was Wyatt Earp at the O.K. Corral. It has led to an insurmountable TBR list (and an angry wife who wonders where all the money goes).

Buried on the slopes of Mount TBR for some time was Michael Miller’s The Reborn King. As is the case with so many other books, I was drawn to its striking cover, as well as the tantalizing premise: a haughty dragon, reborn as a human.

It turns out, that premise is not quite as awesome as it sounds, though it is still pretty darn cool. In Miller’s world, dragons transformed into a human-like form centuries before, and now, they look like us. They’re just stronger, faster, and better looking— kind of like the high school jock who got all the girls, and with the same obnoxious superiority complex.

When we meet Darnuir, the prince of dragons, he comes off as a mix of American football greats, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady: like Manning, he doesn’t win when it counts; like Brady, he’s an arrogant diva who throws temper tantrums when things don’t go his way. He isn’t likeable, and as a reader (or in my case, a listener), I had a hard time connecting to him. I felt so much time was spent showing him as “arrogant, scornful, and full of pride,” (straight from the blurb) I didn’t really care what happened to him.

Then (spoiler! well, not really, since it’s also in the blurb), he is mortally wounded and is then reborn through a magic spell. Only this time, instead of growing up among dragons who adore him based only on the circumstances of his birth, he is raised in an orphanage among humans. It’s the kind of premise that Hollywood movies are made of: a second chance at life. It’s the perfect nature vs nurture story, which raises a question that I (and likely many great philosophers) have pondered for time immemorial: blessed with all the same physical gifts, but raised in Sri Lanka, would Tom Brady still grow up to be a whiny little diva?

Like a training montage in a movie, though without “Eye of the Tiger” playing in the background, the story jumps through time with scenes that show Darnuir growing from baby to young adult, and becoming a ranger. The sequence felt rushed to me—they were too short to help me really connect to Darnuir’s friends, so that when Bad Things™ happen to them later in the story, I didn’t feel as emotionally crushed as I would have, had those relationships been fleshed out more.

It is from Darnuir’s discovery of his true heritage through the recovery of the Dragon Blade that the story takes off. The ensuing narrative, spotlights Miller’s intricate worldbuilding. Dragons are in a tentative alliance with the humans and fairies against the darkness, represented by the evil overlord Rectar. He, in turn, has the equally tentative allegiance of a demon-summoning rogue wizard and shadow dwellers known as Spectres.

The historical underpinnings of these uneasy partnerships leads to widespread distrust among nominal allies, and I particularly enjoyed how mutual dislike and prejudices among supposed friends helped move the story forward. Humans think dragons are selfish, and won’t risk themselves; dragons think humans are weak. Faeries just want their forest protected, and look at their ostensible allies the same way my wife looks at me after she sent me out for milk, and I came back with books instead. One conflict stood out as brilliant to me, where hate, simmering under the surface for a long time, leads to betrayal.

If the good guys have little love lost for each other, the bad guys have equally lukewarm feelings for their allies. Spectres are bitter at the rogue mage, who doesn’t fully trust them; and nobody really has faith in Rectar’s end game.

Magic plays a large role, with Darnuir’s savior, the wizard Brackendon as one of the primary means of outlining its power, cost, and limitations. I found it clever how using magic was portrayed as a growing addiction, with potentially devastating consequences to the user.

Religion is also a driving cultural force insofar as the dragons are concerned. Before his rebirth, he has no faith in the dragon’s religion, which he sees as his father’s crutch. When he re-encounters it as the Dragon King reborn, it is in the form of the Guardian, a religious figure with his own magic sword. Like the aforementioned cross-species struggles, the internal conflict here resembles Earth’s historical tussles between monarchs and religion.

I found the characters’ backstories and interrelations complex and compelling, albeit some were reused fantasy tropes. There are enough Love Triangles to declare it a Love Dodecahedron, with Darnuir—though likeable as the heroic reborn prince— sometimes coming off as a stalker to his romantic interest.

My main complaint would be that very few of the characters are particularly likable, so that made it difficult at times for me to feel invested in the Love Dodecahedron. I do attribute some of this to the narrator of the audiobook, who reminded me a little too much of the narrator for Eragon.

Overall, though, the fabulous worldbuilding and complex story made The Reborn King an enjoyable story. I give it a straight 8.0 on my utterly objective reading/fried chicken scale.


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