Review: Born to the Blade created by Michael R. Underwood
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Born to the Blade
Publisher: Serial Box (July 27, 2018)
Length: 552 pages
The complete Season One of Born to the Blade is the latest omnibus to arrive from Serial Box, and I was especially excited about this one because of the high fantasy setting. Readers are introduced to a world in the sky, where the many floating nations are constantly vying for dominance. For centuries, the Warders’ Circle on the neutral islands of Twaa-Fei have served as the key factor for keeping the peace, settling disputes through formal magical duels. However, with the threat of invasion by the Mertikan Empire looming, the Circle finds that its influence is waning amidst too many tensions on the islands. Furthermore, dire news from trade nation of Quloo comes as it is revealed that the aerstones in foundation are being diminished, causing them to sink.
Young and ambitious, Kris Denn has come to Twaa-Fei in the hopes of winning a seat for Rumika in the Warder’s Circle. To do so, a contender will have to face all six warders in the dueling circle and triumph, or alternatively, gain their support through earning their respect. Meanwhile, Kris has been forging a strong bond with Warder Odo Kante, who knows his nation of Quloo will need Rumika’s help and precious supply of aerstones in order to stay afloat. Readers are also introduced to Michiko, another new arrival whose nation was recently conquered. Her mission to serve her country and empire hits an unexpected snag, however, when she discovers a secret link between herself and a recently executed prisoner, causing her to question everything she knows about her past.
While I ended up enjoying Born to the Blade, I feel it suffers from a lot of the same problems that plague serials. Namely, the format lends itself to unbalanced pacing, and it’s true that some episodes are better than others. A series is also heavily reliant on the first few episodes to catch the reader’s interest, ensuring they will return for more, and in this sense, they work very much like a season of a TV show. The authors were clearly aware of this, because the first four episodes (from “Arrivals” to “The Gauntlet”) were intensely packed with action, using fighting scenes and other violent conflict to draw the reader in. However, in terms of actual plot, these early sections felt somewhat lacking.
There was also an obvious push to cram as much character development into these first few episodes, but the execution itself was disorganized, likely due to having multiple authors on the same project. The result was an atmosphere of chaos and confusion which made it difficult for me to connect with the early parts of the story, and inconsistencies in the way several of the characters were portrayed certainly didn’t help. Further muddying up the waters, each author also had a different style and approach to the narrative so that some episodes would focus heavily on developing the characters but spend little time on progressing the plot, and consequently we would end up with episodes that were straight-up filler (“Baby Shower” immediately comes to mind.)
To be completely honest, I don’t think I would have continued with Born to the Blade based on my feelings on the first few episodes, which is why I always prefer a serial to be complete so I can binge read the entire season and experience it as a whole. Despite the potential in the intro and incredible world-building, the first four episodes were arguably some of the weakest. For me, the story did not pick up until the fifth episode “Trade Deal”, in which a real conflict was finally introduced. This was a turning point for the series in more ways than one, because not only did this episode raise the stakes, the writing also smoothed out once the plot got rolling, no doubt a result of the authors falling into a comfortable rhythm as they adapted to each other’s styles. Things only improved from here on out, with later episodes feeling a lot more integrated and having better flow.
If I had to rate each episode individually, many in the first half would probably receive 2-3 stars while most in the second half would receive solid 4s. Born to the Blade is simply that kind of story, a slow-burning narrative that requires time to grow. While this process might not work as well for the serial format, the end result is the same in that patience and determination to stick it out will eventually pay off for the reader. Despite some early stumbles, I enjoyed myself, and chances are really good that I’ll continue with the second season.