Book Review #15: What Lies Beneath by Michael R. Lowe

The ancient realm of Xovia is in turmoil. A dark, powerful figure known as The Masked One runs rampant across the land, pillaging and kidnapping as he sees fit. This evil entity is searching for the Lost Crowns, which will allow him to ascend to The Empty Throne, thus becoming the ruler of all.

When Arturius wakes up on the edge of a blood-covered battlefield– no memory of who he is or where he comes from– his journey begins. Together, he and a band of exiles take the task upon themselves to stop The Masked One and find the crowns themselves. His journey will be anything but easy, and the truth will be harder to uncover than ever before.

Isn’t this cover just drool worthy?!

We’ll start with style. What Lies Beneath is an epic dark fantasy, meaning it is LONG and it is WORDY. I think the word I used to describe it was “chonker.” The language can be at times very description heavy and can often times bog the reader down, but this is very much a staple of the genre. If you’re an active reader of my reviews here, then you know I don’t read a lot of this heavy fantasy genre. I can handle some cross-genre stories, light fantasies, etc, but epic fantasy is really not my forte.

It may be after this, y’all.

This book was indeed the longest book I’ve read in a long time, and it did take some time to get moving. It’s not without issues (which I’ll get to in just a moment). Yet, I found myself just blank-staring at the wall after reading the end and WISHING it would keep going. I was both exhausted and amazed and…. blown away that I liked it as much as I did.

As far as issues go, the first three chapters really need to be condensed into a shorter prologue. I understand their significance now, after talking this through with Lowe in our Book Club. Yet, I still think they’re too long. Especially considering that they have nothing to do with Arturius to begin with. They seem very disjointed and a bit confusing.

Another rather small issue (because I loved the plot so dang much) was the amount of errors. It’s going to happen. The more you write, the more words start blending together and you start making little typos. No one is perfect, I know that. Yet, the amount of typos and punctuation errors throughout is sometimes distracting. It takes you out of the story. I suggest that Lowe invests in a line editor (which will be pricey) to go through and pick out the mistakes. I’ve done a lot of the spelling stuff through my notes, but the punctuation errors, I didn’t pick out. A good editor will be able to do that for you.

Now, the PEOPLE. In true epic fantasy form, you’ve got a whole cast and crew of characters. They’re a band of brothers (for lack of a better word). I have problems keeping up with a whole bunch of names, but that’s just a personal thing. It wasn’t until past the halfway point that I was really able to start distinguishing between each individual person.

Our story really starts with Arturius (our hero) and Silas (our scholar/helper). As I was reading, I kept referencing Lord of the Rings. It’s one of my favorite movie franchises. Please don’t click away because I haven’t read the books. I tried. I told you I don’t like epic fantasy books; I lack the patience. Yet, I found myself comparing the characters and events to Tolkien’s characters. Arturius is Frodo– but with some killer sword-weilding skills and more height. He has a strong moral compass and fights over and over to do what’s right. I really like Art.

The rest of the group includes Silas: a young and often sheltered, for reasons that are semi-clear right now, scholar; Selwyn: the leader of the band of exiles that I compare to either Gandalf or Aragorn. We will see how one event plays out in his life before I finish that comparison. Then, there’s Garton, who reminds me a bit of Aragorn, cursed and broken but so faithful to the hero; Ozark: the guy who seems to know everything about untold legends, a Legolas in my book, Eskiel (Gimli, lol), Kezin, Robbard, Jorik, Burak, Dovan, Karlan… I’m honestly probably forgetting someone. It’s a list and a half. Sometimes they blend together, sometimes they do not. Some characters are world’s better than others. That’s just the reality, though.

For my analysis of the plot, I have to keep in mind: this is an epic fantasy. I can’t look at it with the same glasses as I would one of my sci-fi or romance books.

We do have a rather slow start. Art and Silas are trudging forward to find the exiled crew, fighting their inner demons and some outer battles along the way. In terms of action, not a lot is happening for a while! I’m not a huge fan of the down periods.

About halfway through, things pick up. Fast. Once Art is joined with Selwyn and his men, they start engaging in battles. They travel. They bicker. This is the meat in the burger, y’all. This was by far my favorite part. The action is so well-written, and it doesn’t drag on like you would expect it to after this length world building (necessary for this genre, I know). Plus, the assorted talents of the characters really makes for an interesting read!

Some notes from my reading experience include:

  • “This is like that thing that killed Gandalf. You know– YOU SHALL NOT PASS. That thing.”
  • “OMG ELVES” followed by: “OMG NO! It’s an ent!” (I was wrong on both occasions, lol.)

Overall, a slow, imperfect read that was somehow bursting at the seams with all the potential to be a staple epic fantasy. I would recommend this to anyone who loves Lord of the Rings! It was wonderful, and I am so glad I pushed through to finish it.

8/10 from me.

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