This one of the hardest reviews I've had to write to date, because I've never read anything quite like The Seedbearing Prince before. It's so, so unusual, and has completely thrown me off-balance. I'm, dare I say it, near speechless. I'd love to just write "This was a uniquely incredible, incredibly unique read." and leave it there...honestly...it was so, so good that it's
So, to try and get on myself back on track, I'll start with the obvious. Sanders' cover art is very strong. Never, ever underestimate the importance of that first impression. The artwork here is striking and professional, and for Indie Authors in particular, that's a huge win. I'd be drawn to this in a bookshop, and it's one I can guarantee you I'd pick up. The next stop for your potential reader is the blurb. Now, not quite so strong here, imho. I see mention of a 'farmer's son' and already my mind is wandering. As a lifelong fantasy reader I can't tell you how many novels featuring humble farm boys heading off on quests I've read. It's dangerous ground in many respects. Others will argue the 'if it 'aint broke' defence, which is entirely fair, it just depends on what audience you're going for. Hardcore Fantasy fans will be on their guard at this point. Many that I know would re-shelve the book before reaching the end of that first sentence. There are three words coming up that would've stopped me putting it back though, "Voidwalkers" and "floating fortress". That totally moves away from everything I know about farmboys, and I'm off to the cash desk to pay.
Comparison-wise, there are some obvious parallels here that I should at least mention. But Sanders put his personal spin on everything and makes the story completely his own. I'd be remiss if I got through the review without mentioning Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Eragon. So, consider them mentioned, but don't let them put you off.
Whilst the farm boy theme may well be old and tired, Sanders puts enough of a fresh spin on it here that it works, and works well. Shard is a world so different from any I've read in Fantasy before that everything felt brand new. Farming here isn't the usual pigs and grain scenario the mind tends to conjure. It's much, much more than that. And the way that farming works, the means in which the food is distributed, it's just genius. I'm not wanting to spoiler anything, you'll just have to trust me, it's fantastic.
The mix of the Sci-Fi settings with the Fantasy character types was beautifully handled. I've seen this tried many times, but never seen it work as well as it does here. Sanders' world-building is masterful, and his character creation is impeccable. How often do you get that? So many times it's one at the expense of the other. Not here!
Sanders has an immense amount to explain to the reader about his world, and he handles it like an absolute pro. He goes for the organic approach, which is my favourite kind. There are no vast info-dumps to trawl though, we learn about the world as we travel with Dayn, through his eyes, and when you consider the sheer weight of information contained here that's an incredible feat of writing. How he handles that mass of material so compactly and so engagingly, well, if he could bottle it and sell it he'd be a rich man.
The characters here were my favourite part of the novel. I'm a big fan of character-driven fantasy, and there are some gems here. Dayn is a fantastic protagonist. He became like an 'anti-grit' hero for me. I've got so tired lately of reading Fantasy with dark, disturbed heroes brimming with violence and malice. It seems to have become the norm in contemporary fantasy, a lot of the time you don't get 20 pages in any more before the customary rape scene. It can be powerful, and serve a purpose, of course, but so much of the time it's just thrown in for effect and what Sanders does here is demonstrate that it's not necessary. You can have an interesting, three dimensional hero without the brooding malice, and it can be a Really Good Thing. Dayn is an 'everyman' figure, which makes him instantly accessible. He's easy to identify with and that's what makes him so much fun to read.
Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of menace in Dayn's world, and there's terror and horror within the novel, but at the same time there's Goodness, and Hope, and Humour. With Sanders you get the whole picture. And much as I don't want to sound like an Old Woman here, it's brilliant to see it done without serial bad language and the kind of 'who can out grit each other the most' p*ssing contest that the likes of Abercrombie and Lawrence enjoy. This is a novel I'd be happy lending to my Sci-Fi loving Mum, and at the same time, one that I would love to see my young son reading. There's another rarity for you right there, it's not easy to write well for both adults and teens, but to my mind, Sanders has nailed it.
The writing here is accomplished and engaging. Sanders has a beautiful turn of phrase that I really wasn't expecting, it's a kind of narrative voice that I've not encountered often in Sci-Fi. And I'd love to see more of it out there! His prose is intelligent and addictive, nothing is dumbed down or softened, there's an honesty there that's hard to describe. You don't often see a YA read of this quality. And I think that's what makes it stand out from the crowd so much for me as a reader. His tone reminds me of Peter V Brett in places, and the scope of his material puts me in mind of mash-up of Robert Jordan and Steven Erikson. If you like either of those three, you'll find something to like in The Seedbearing Prince.
So am I just going to endlessly gush or do I have anything negative to say? Well, two little things. Well one little thing and one really quite big thing. The little thing is that there's a bit of a pacing issue. The prologue is absolutely breakneck. It's hold-your-breath stuff. Everything is thrown at you and you're hurtling along trying to take it all in and it's totally captivating. Then with the first chapter you get a much more relaxed pace, which works brilliantly in contrast. But you need to get used to that slow pace because, while there are plenty of hard and fast action scenes, overall the pace does tend very much towards the unhurried. With the richness of the world it's completely understandable, and to my mind it works 99% of the time. There were a couple of places though where I did my find my eyes skipping ahead, and had to wrench them back. It's going to be a love it or hate it situation I think, on the whole I loved it. Jordan is the closest I can think to compare it to, but don't be put off because it's nowhere near *that* slow. It's just...rich...a richly, heavily detailed story, and you do get a huge amount of value in return for that laid back pace.
The big thing, for me, was the ending. I am not a happy bunny when it comes to cliffhangers. I understand that they have their place, but personally I'm always looking for a complete unit, no matter what number in a series. Aspects of cliffhanger are fine, but this? this was a little too much for me. I actually found myself turning my Kindle over and looking at the back. No idea what I was expecting to find, I just wanted MORE. But maybe that's the ultimate indicator of the strength of a novel, can you tick the 'reader left wanting more' box? Mr Sanders, consider it ticked!
On the whole, I absolutely loved The Seedbearing Prince. I read it in a ridiculously short time. I got by on 2 hours sleep to finish it. Which, in retrospect, may well have been why I was randomly yelling at no one demanding 'the rest of the story'. I genuinely can't recommend this highly enough. If you've never read an Indie title out of fear of quality, this would be a really, really good example to cut your teeth on. I can't possibly give it anything less than five stars.