Seeking Sorrow by Zen Dipietro is a first novel and, while it has some creaky bits, I think they are more than overwhelmed by wit, invention, and characters I grew to like. I was genuinely wrapped up in the story being told and the characters. It’s a fantasy quest novel with a bit of a sci-fi and mystery.
The story is good – it’s intriguing and full of suggestion and possible future events – but it’s really the characters that stand out for me. There are basically five primary characters, all of whom are generally well fleshed out – they feel (and read) like unique personalities that are not just a stack of cliches and personality traits. It feels to me the characters are the real focus of the book and, since the proposed series is Guardians of Terath, I suspect this is intentional. It’s a bit of an origin story for a problem-solving team (I’m guessing) and it works.
I’m also amused to say that the story starts with a team of three competent and capable men which somewhat surprised me since the author has a website (womenofbadassery.com) that would suggest strong female leads. Well, that’s not a problem since they are quickly joined by a couple of strong but very much opposite examples of such (who don’t overwhelm and make the men irrelevant – they retain as much agency as before).
The story this team is engaged in is curiously engaging. It’s partly due to the mystery (a town has been destroyed – who did it and why?) but it’s also due to you learning the world as the characters begin their quest (more on the world below). I was also engaged by the simple fact that the characters (who I have already called problem solvers) are dispatched to handle this problem in a kind of trouble-shooting manner by government officials. There’s something about a team of experts handling a problem that is, for me, an enjoyable upsetting of standard-issue fantasy quest tropes. I’m sure it’s not the first, but it still feels fresh.
I can’t go without saying the book is also interesting from the standpoint of world-building and genre. It’s technically fantasy in that it posits a world of magic (or, rather, mana) but one where that magic has been put to use to create a technological utopia of sorts. This is fairly well thought through but it doesn’t hammer you home with all the details. For example, this world has monorails, the system wraps around the planet but is limited to non-existent in more northern climates. If this was more hard sci-fi, the author might go into technical details here explaining how it all works but this one lets your imagination fill in the details. It’s a nice balancing act that I think is largely successful and works for a fantasy novel.
The book isn’t perfect – there are some questions I have regarding the world and, more important, to some of the decision making made. There’s a few rough patches as far as the writing goes but nothing that screams any level of incompetence from a story-telling standpoint. I could be a little forgiving as this is a new author and a digital download only (as of this writing). Your results may vary. 🙂
So, yeah, overall a book I found surprisingly engaging.
I probably should acknowledge that I’m familiar with the author in real life but it’s been maybe ten years since we’ve been in any real contact. I was notified of the book’s release a couple of weeks before it happened but I purchased and read the published version when it showed up on Amazon (as in, I didn’t review an early draft or anything, if that matters).
Score: 4 out of 5