Ringlander: The Path and the Way- Review

An ambitious debut that takes all the right risks to create a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable epic fantasy with surprise (and welcome) science fantasy elements

I was approached by Michael S. Jackson to review this book as part of his debut blog tour and I’m delighted to be involved, along with some excellent reviewers.

I’d actually been first been drawn to his book when I was looking through the entrants to this year’s SPFBO and the cover really drew me in – it’s definitely in the top 3, if not the best cover of this year’s picks.

As the old adage goes, “Never judge a book by its cover” but we all do. Thankfully, in the main this book completely lives up to its striking front, with an in depth and well thought out world that, rather than feeling like our dark age, medieval or renaissance world with a bit of magic thrown in (like much of popular fantasy), really feels like true fantasy, like you’re exploring a completely new place. And that’s why a lot of us read the genre, to escape.

Of course, the regions and people share many characteristics with the real world, some of which might be obvious. There are definitely parallels. But what is striking to me at least is how well Jackson paints these factions and environments, creating this living, breathing world you believe in and immerse yourself within. The addition of the multiple realities perhaps takes you out of your comfort zone a little, adding something new, that feels in some respects like science fantasy. This isn’t overwhelming and at its core this is a page turner of an epic fantasy with warring factions, races and that popular aspect of conquest, control of territory and the fight against oppression.

Cut them down as you would the tree, conquer them as you would the mountain.

Jackson creates a believable threat in the Bohr. Stronger than humans, and determined to stay on top, humanity is beginning to grow in number (as we are wont to do) creating a threat of our own to the Bohr, despite the individual disparity in strength.

This particularly appealed to my interest in evolutionary biology, with one of our main characters being half human, half Bohr. I don’t know whether it’s been done many times before, but I therefore really enjoyed seeing humanity pitted against a (in some ways) similar species that are of course also very different. We are always the colonisers – especially within a western European background, so it was intriguing to put the humans under threat of colonisation by a (militarily) superior foe.

Those who choose to fight tyranny will always triumph over those who are forced. Our loyalty binds us and makes us strong.

What I loved most about the book is hard to describe in specific terms, but if you read it you’ll catch on to the vibe within a couple of chapters. I just got a real feel that the author had fun writing it. With self publishing, there is a real license to expand your dreams and ideas and I got a strong impression that Michael S. Jackson relished the opportunity. There are a lot of brilliant ideas at play, both popular elements that always work in fantasy and more risky ones which is done really intelligently (even if requiring a re-read of a page ocassionally.) The author has even thought about the subtle differences in the way characters speak depending on their backgrounds – that’s certainly how it felt to me. And it’s little touches and thoughtful writing that adds that extra immersion and quality.

At times, especially toward the start where you’re getting a feel for the world, it can be hard to follow and needs some concentration. Stupidly, I only realised there was a glossary after finishing the book. Yes, it’s there in the contents so I only have myself to blame. This may have helped my earlier understanding.

I feel in parts the book could maybe have done with one last bit of polish but that is being very nitpicky of a debut novel that’s so well written and immersive in the main. I’d always choose an honest, passionately written debut that the author’s love and care resonates through over an overly-edited bore fest. And I can’t stress enough how much you can feel the freedom and brilliant ideas the author comes up with.

This is most definitely ambitious, but all the right risks are taken. I have so much respect for self published fantasy but there are some occasions where an author might lose their way a little on their debut especially, perhaps to fill the word count or make the book more substantial. There is none of this here – just the author’s inventive imagination which you can never accuse of being boring or repetitive.

What self publishing is amazing for is giving an author a chance to shine and show what they can do – and Michael S. Jackson grabs it with both hands with a scope and imagination that’s so enjoyable to experience.

I make no mistake in my reviews that I am usually a reader who cares more about the world building and plot than the characters, and that’s one reason I really enjoyed this book; because the plot and world are so well imagined and thought out.

For fans of character driven stories, I’d say the protagonists are interesting and different enough from one another to keep you invested in their individual journeys. Kyira for example is quite a typical lead but has enough about her to make her unique to follow rather than being replaceable. You won’t be disappointed.

Fans of worldbuilding and plot, like me, are going to be very impressed. A very solid and enjoyable debut with so much promise and imagination. It’s been a pleasure and I look forward to seeing what else the author can cook up next!

Holes between worlds are tearing through Rengas. Firestorms are raging as multiple realities battle for control of the elements. Even the Way, the turbulent channel that separates Nord, Határ and Kemen, the lifeblood of the city of Tyr, has turned.

Kyira’s search for her missing brother draws her away from the familiar frozen lines of Nord and south into the chaotic streets of Tyr where games are played & battles fought. As reality tears Kyira must choose between her family or her path before the worlds catch up with her.


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