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The Blue Mountain by G. R. Matthews

The Blue Mountain by G. R. Matthews
3.5
Book Name: The Blue Mountain
Author: G. R. Matthews
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Dark Fantasy
Release Date: April 6, 2015

Spoiler Warning: This review contains minor spoilers for The Stone Road and The Blue Mountain.

“You were a diplomat, what do you know of war…”

I’d like to thank G. R. Matthews for allowing me to review his first self-published trilogy The Forbidden List. This trilogy was entered into Mark Lawrence’s (author of The Broken Empire) Self-Published Blog Off contest and was also included in Fantasy-Faction’s Book Club. There is also a short story taking place in The Forbidden List trilogy titled “Outlaw Mountain” that I look forward to reading. Matthews’ trilogy is an intriguing, spiritual, action-based Asian-fantasy novel with dark undertones laced throughout. Besides being an author Matthews is also a strong voice in the fantasy community.

Matthews second installment, The Blue Mountain, carries on with the lives of Huang and Zhou, whom are struggling in the aftermath of a devastating war that has destroyed their homes. Many of the characters we have grown familiar with in the first book, The Stone Road, make a return. Zhou, the diplomat turned Wu who uses Qi and traverses the Spirit World. Huang, the former Jiin-Wei, is now learning the ways of the Taiji at the request of the Emperor. Secondary characters make a return too, such as Xióngmao and the Emperor who help support both of the main protagonists.

As Huang shelters in the Holy City of the Emperor, Zhou is journeying through the Spirit World with his tutor Xióngmao, where they come under attack by a massive assault of spiritual horses. The result of the disturbing changes in the Spirit World results in a troubling unknown for the Wu.

“Something here is corrupting the spirit energy. It makes me feel ill. We need to get back to the mountain. We need to talk to the others. This isn’t right.”

Huang is tasked with the duty of reporting back to the Emperor about the state of the wall and the skirmishes of a new danger threatening it. This danger is thought to be the Mongols, a nomadic people who had deftly utilized horses as their means of life, in transport and in warfare that had devastated a people who once lived on the plains. With the creation of the wall this has changed the livelihood of the Mongols to a bleak one. Even resorting to turning to their enemies for help.

Asian elements of the novel, such as the lore of the Wu is additionally established. Zhou discovers a new form that enables him to traverse the Spirit World more safely and powerfully, as well as some of the history of the Wu and some of its historical disturbances. There’s not the “ninjaesque” action sequences as in The Stone Road, however there’s more militarized warfare. In fact, there’s a good dollop of large battle scenes throughout the novel that were on an epic scale. The tone of the novel definitely leans in the direction of a more gritty, epic work with these large-scaled battles and the daring trials each character faces.

Many of the griefs I had with the first novel were amended in the second, with the characters being further developed and their relationships being fleshed-out, making for a more enjoyable read overall. I felt that I could become more emotionally invested in the characters, their hardships, their fears and, therefore, their lives because of these expansions.

Matthews strength particularly lies with his tight, action-packed writing that held an inkling of a kinship with R. A. Salvatore’s Drizzt series. Action scenes should be fluid and tight to pump-up the tension and Matthews neatly handles this well.

Still, while reading The Blue Mountain I had a vague feeling there was something bothering me about Matthews prose: it was Matthews reliance on telling, rather than showing. While there were scenes that had either Zhou or Huang battling a Mongol soldier or Zhou using magic as a Wu, when it came to scenes that were setting-up the finale I would had liked more immersion to draw me deeper into the story. Did this ruin the entire novel for me? Not at all. But if Matthews created a scene that expanded on events that were simply being told to the reader, it would had made for a stronger work as a whole.

One of the scenes I enjoyed the most was one that developed Zhou as a character, where he came across an old woman in the forest. This very scene develops Zhou’s trepidations as a Wu and his ignorance as one as well. Likewise, it contributed the right amount of mysticism to keep me invested in the passage. Matthews operates this scene to its full advantage by using the creation of a needle from a long metal pole as a metaphor of Zhou’s growth and his continuation of growth as a Wu. Overall, he wishes to race through his training as fast as possible and it is wisely chastised by the old women for his impatience. This literary device of Zhou’s impatience to grow stronger as a Wu is a powerful depiction and one I sincerely applauded.

“A needle?” Zhou’s eyes widened. “But that will take forever. Wouldn’t you be better starting with a smaller piece of iron? It would take much less time.”

“Yes, it would. But it wouldn’t be the needle I want…”

What I relished the most in The Blue Mountain was the development of Zhou, who continues to be the most dynamic character of The Forbidden List trilogy. While he is developing his skills as a Wu, Zhou is still struggling with profound loss. This loss laces the framework of Zhou’s character overall, one who still feels a deep sense of anger while trying to redeem himself through his trainings. The training used by the Wu (one involving the task of ascending stairs and reaching the top) was also something I vastly enjoyed and wholly illustrated how difficult it is to enter the Spirit World without the assistance of a fellow Wu. I cared more about Huang’s family in this installment because of the emotional interactions he shared with them. Therefore, I was strongly invested in Huang’s well-being than in the previous installment.

While Matthews writing is still wrinkled with a few spelling errors or relying on telling rather than showing, the world he has created outshines these drawbacks. Matthews worldbuilding kept my attention as we explored the societies he has created and I only hope that his next and final installment of The Forbidden List nicely finalizes these threads he has created in his first two installments. I look forward to the final novel, The Red Plains, and continue to recommend it to anyone that enjoys Asian-infused fantasy.

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar David Zampa says:

    It’s a lovely review on a good, fun book!

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