Book Review: A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Seven Kennings

Publisher: Del Rey (October 17, 2017)

Length: 640 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Of all the things I expected to feel when I picked up Kevin Hearne’s new epic fantasy, boredom was not one of them. Unfortunately though, there it was, creeping up on me despite my immense efforts to give this book a chance. It actually pains me to admit this, because I love Hearne and he’s an awesomely funny guy who normally writes great stories, but as much as I tried and tried to like this, something about A Plague of Giants just did not work for me.

Granted, the book opened with a promising and energetic introduction, setting the scene for a charismatic bard to take the stage before a crowd of weary but optimistic survivors who have all gathered in the public square to hear him recount the history of the Giants’ War. By using his magic, a particular kind of kenning that allows the bard to take on the forms of different people, he begins adopting the physical appearances and voices of the book’s many characters, each of whom have a unique story to tell related to their experiences during the giants’ invasion. Subsequently, we are treated to a parade of these narratives presented to us one after another, letting us see a different character’s perspective each time.

The pattern is sometimes broken, however, with glimpses into the present as the bard, Fintan, becomes embroiled in drama resulting from his storytelling. His sections with Master Dervan, a scribe who has been tasked to record everything Fintan recounts, act like interludes to show the day-to-day happenings between each cycle of performances in the square.

Speaking as someone who believes that time jumps and multiple timelines should be employed both practically and sensibly, trying to navigate my way through this novel was a convoluted nightmare. The first few character POVs intrigued me, but as they gradually began to stack up with nary a sign how everything might be related, my interest swiftly plummeted. Even when the bigger picture started to come together, it was too late and my enthusiasm failed to come back. That said, it’s important to note that in his acknowledgements, Hearne mentions that serial storytelling was something he’s always wanted to try and I applaud him for his efforts. It’s only my bad luck that I happen to be antipathetic towards this particular format, and later I also felt that it was completely wrong for what the author was trying to accomplish.

I hate to say it, but characterization was probably one of the first casualties of this approach. Quite simply, I was inundated and overwhelmed by the sea of names and cultures which were all just given perfunctory nods before being swept aside in favor of frenzied action sequences, and as a result, nothing managed to stick. More authors need to realize that while including diversity is wonderful and important, if your characters are weak and underdeveloped, then the gesture itself loses a lot of its meaning and intent. Incredibly, out of the dozen or so character POVs, there was not a single person in this story I truly cared about. Not. A. Single. One. Usually, when it comes to me and books, that’s the kiss of death.

Still, it wasn’t all bad. For one, I was really impressed with the world of this novel, which consists of six different nations each with their own unique customs and cultures. Among those traditions is the magical gift of the kenning, of which there are five when this story begins, though later on a sixth is discovered by a character from Ghurana Nent, making it one kenning specific to the peoples of each nation. Rooted in natural magic, kennings can manifest as different powers depending on the element upon which they are based.  While not everyone has a kenning, those who are blessed with it must be cautious not to use too much of their power, because the more they draw on it the more it robs them of their life span. Those who are not careful and who stretch the limits of their power can find themselves aging years in the blink of an eye.

Bottom line: A Plague of Giants is certainly an ambitious novel, which must have required a lot of planning and forethought. The incredible world-building is a testament to this, and also why it greatly pained me to have to write this negative review. When all is said and done though, I still maintain that priority should have been on characterization first, and the novel’s failure to do this in my eyes made it a tough read, one that I had to grudgingly force myself to finish even if it meant skimming through some sections. Maybe it was the format that completely ruined it for me, but I doubt I’ll be continuing the series even if the next book is presented in a more traditional and linear manner; I just can’t muster the interest to keep on going.

Looking at other reviews though, it appears readers either loved this book or didn’t, and as disappointed as I am to be in the latter camp, I would not discourage anyone from giving A Plague of Giants a try—especially if you’re a fan of the author’s Iron Druid Chronicles and would be curious to see what it’s like for him write something completely different. Here’s hoping you’ll have better luck with it than I did, but I’m sticking with his urban fantasy for now.

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28 Comments on “Book Review: A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

  1. I was really curious about this one because I’ve heard so many good things about his other UF series, and I liked the Star Wars book he wrote. Sorry to hear this one had problems. I think the structure sounds problematic to me as well. Such a fun premise too! I may still give it a try, maybe when the next one comes out and I can binge ’em if I like this one. Thanks for the honest review.

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    • I don’t know, maybe his style is just not a good fit for me. I wasn’t blown away by his Iron Druid books either, though I thought they were fun. Interestingly though, despite mixed reviews, I really enjoyed his Star Wars book and that’s probably my favorite book by him I’ve read so far.

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  2. I couldn’t stand his Iron Druid series, so I might have to check this series out in a while to see if it is his writing or just the content that I didn’t like about ID…

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  3. Oh darn. I had high hopes for this book. I didn’t request it because I knew it was too long for me to get through in a reasonable amount of time, but I love the idea of a story about giants.

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  4. That’s so sad! Sounds like this novel could’ve been really good. I hate the different time lines thing when we bounce around. It’s hard enough to pull off lots of POVs! I really need to get to Iron Druid though.

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    • Multiple timelines and jumping back and forth in time works for some people, I guess, but I really find it distracting. I’m always impressed whenever I come across a book that can pull it off, but sadly this just wasn’t one of them 😦

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  5. I’ve been curious about this one but knew little about the plot. I don’t like the idea of this format much and I don’t think it sounds that great based on your descriptions of it! If I don’t like the characters and find it boring I DNF and I suspect that may be my reaction if I read it! I’ll stick to Iron Druid rereads I think!

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    • His Iron Druid books were at least entertaining. I couldn’t really say I enjoyed myself much reading this one though. Still, who knows, A Plague of Giants might still work for you! I know you’re a fan of Hearne, and the style of this one is very different from his UF. It could be an interesting experience.

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  6. *OUCH* 🙂
    This sounds like a very “busy” book, one of those that keep you distracted by the sheer amount of details you should remember, so that the story ends up falling by the wayside…
    I’m sorry it didn’t work for you, despite your expectations!

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  7. I confess I loved the look of this one so it’s kind of disappointing that you really didn’t like it – tbh, I didn’t pick up a review copy and it would probably be a long time before I bought a copy because I literally have over a hundred books of my own waiting tbr – and I keep seeming to add to them! Need to stop. Now.
    A real shame, I do like his Atticus novels and so will catch up with those and give this one a miss – especially at 600+ pages – more than enough space to fill in the characters.
    Lynn 😀

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  8. This is a huge bummer. I think I’ve only read the first iron druid book, but I remember it being laugh out loud funny. I will definitely stick to those books because I need to care about my characters, too. 😦

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  9. Was surprised to see the 2 stars since I’m looking forward to this one, but I totally understand where you’re coming from. I’ve only read 1 chap so far and it piqued my interest..

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  10. Pingback: Mogys’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  11. As luck would have it – I’m right in the middle of reading this one. I can see why you found the structure something of a problem. So far, so good – but I still have a way to go:). But I enjoyed reading your excellent review, which was so very clear on exactly why you didn’t love this one.

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