The Fifth Vertex (The Sigilord Chronicles) (Volume 1)

The Fifth Vertex (The Sigilord Chronicles) (Volume 1) - Kevin Hoffman Received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

This review contains spoilers.

I was excited to get into the Fifth Vertex. It's not really a secret that SFF tends to be quite the offender when it comes to lack of diversity with characters, and I leapt at the chance to read a story from the point of view of our hero, Urus, who is deaf. I can't recall the last time I saw a deaf character in any type of book, never mind fantasy.
First thing's first - I feel that this story moves far too quickly, and is quite bloated. We're being introduced to a lot of things, and quickly, and aren't given much time to sit down and absorb them, preferably alongside the characters that all of these new things are happening to. They seemed to simply ask a token 'What's going on here?' before apparently shrugging it off and getting on with it. I might have expected something like that from Goodwyn (who, if I'm reading correctly, seems to have had access to his magic since his birth, at least, though that was not made clear), but not Urus, who seemed to have come to his magic later in life. Too many things happened that didn't make sense and had relatively no explanation that I could recall (Urus somehow entering Murin's mind, Murin somehow becoming Urus' familiar, etc). The entire story felt as if it were a duffel bag being packed for a camping trip - instead of careful planning of what was needed and neat and efficient packing, the book felt more like things that happened to be nearby and looked interesting or useful were shoved in the bag until it was bursting at the seams. It'll probably get you through the weekend, yes, but not nearly as neatly and easily as it could've gone. Normally exposition is something that has to be handled carefully, but in this case, I really think that the story could've benefited from more of it.
I'm not sure how to explain this next part, but a lot of the time it seemed as if I could 'feel' the scaffolding of the story, the research and ideas that built it up and into what it was. It felt very much as if the author had been reading about issues with diversity in fantasy literature and decided to address it head-on with The Fifth Vertex - we have a deaf character, main characters who are not white, a gay character, and a female main character. This, in itself, isn't a bad thing. However, it made the entire story stick out like a sore thumb. I think that this ties in with both my previous point (the story moves too quickly), and my next point:
I could not connect emotionally with the characters. Oh, I wanted to. The characters were exactly the sort of thing I love to see in fantasy. The problem for me was that I never had time to sit back and get to know them. The story moved from one action sequence to the next, all fast-paced peaks and no development valleys to cool off with after them. I couldn't suspend disbelief that these people were being thrown into violent and life-changing situations with so little feeling towards it. They just seemed to quirk a brow at it, accept, and then move on. I was expecting doubt, and giddiness, and misunderstanding, and mistakes being made, and then learning from said mistakes, or not learning at all. I was expecting these characters to react in a much more realistic way to everything happening to them. By the end of the book I felt very much as if I was emerging from a retelling of a fever dream that someone had. I skimmed along the surface of the characters, never really latching on to any of them, no matter how much I wanted to. These characters felt like just that: characters. They didn't feel like real people to me. They didn't react in ways I was expecting them to, but not with pleasant surprise at the unpredictable nature of, well, human nature. Urus arguably had the most development, seeing as we learn not only parts of his back-story, but also how dealing with deafness in his culture has been a struggle for him, and his eventual realization that he was simply not cut out for being a warrior like he thought he had always dreamed of. Apart from that, little changes. Many of the large decisions involving him were made for him, rather than by him. It's a bit strange to think that he did not go through enough internal struggle in my opinion, considering that he went through plenty...but it didn't feel like the right sort of struggle at times. A lot of it was personal, and that's good. That helps trigger development. But I feel that not enough of it stemmed from moral dilemmas presented. He never really sat down and thought about the things he was going through. Neither did Goodwyn, nor Cailix. The end result was that I was simply unable to learn and grow with these characters, despite my attempts to do so. Too many times, something would happen that nobody would really react to - the very sudden death of the duke being the worst case, in my opinion. Whether they come from a warrior nation or not, Urus and Goodwyn saw a man very suddenly and violently betrayed and bled to death in front of them. Even Corliss seemed very blase about the whole thing. There was no surprise whatsoever, no shock, and I had to backtrack to make sure I was reading the scene correctly, that I hadn't missed a paragraph somewhere. There was a huge lack of characters showing their emotions. How many times have you seen a person you know very well walking? How many times could you tell how they were feeling simply from that one action alone? Walking slowly with thoughtful movements - calmness. Quick strides, furrowed brow, clutching some item close to them - stress, the need to hurry, anxiety. Back straight, shoulders back, jaw stiff - anger, irritation. Shoulders slumped, eyes downcast, steady yet robotic steps - unhappiness, distress, bleakness. So much can be said about a person without words, and there was so little of that in The Fifth Vertex. Seeing the characters actually showing their emotions, and more than just smiling, would've done a lot of good for the book.
The magic systems themselves were interesting, but again, so many of them were thrown at the reader that it was hard to follow them. Most of them weren't complicated to follow, but some of the things that Murin spoke of were a complete 180 to this, mostly soaring straight over my head. It left me incredibly confused most of the time, until even the most understandable of the magics left me completely bewildered. Again, I strongly feel that this is because simply not enough time was devoted strictly to a little bit of explaining here and there. Murin states that Goodwyn and Urus are both a quiver and sigilord respectively - we get a little more insight on what a sigilord is, but absolutely nothing on what a quiver is, or why they can see ahead the way they do, or why they seemed to be either extremely rare or wiped out like the sigilords were. Not to mention, it's awfully convenient that Urus, the apparent last true sigilord, just so happens to be best friends with Goodwyn, a quiver...whatever that is, apart from rare. Murin becomes Urus' familiar - okay, but how? Why? A bond that formed between them when Urus entered Murin's mind was mentioned, but again, how and why? In this story, what is a familiar? I know that they're usually presented in the forms of animals, often intelligent and able to converse in some manner with their 'master', and they tend to accompany magical beings. But what are they in The Fifth Vertex? We get no explanation whatsoever, except that Murin's former student finds it very funny, for reasons we don't actually understand, making it neither informative nor amusing. I'm assuming that whatever blood mages and arbiters are get explained in the next book, but considering that Murin was apparently an arbiter and knowledgeable on blood mages, I would've thought that he would've taken even a few minutes to delve into what they are a little more than what he did say, which admittedly wasn't much, and confusing to boot. Far too many things are shoved at us and we're expected to either retain it for the next book or just 'get it' and keep going. I know that if I were one of the main characters in that sort of situation, I'd get incredibly frustrated and aggravated waiting for some insight as to what the hell was actually going on.
To end it off, I'd like to say a few things about the technical side of the writing. The first half of the book was quite impressive, and I found very few spelling/grammatical errors. In fact, I don't recall seeing a single one. In the second half, however, they cropped up quite frequently. While the first half of the book feels much more polished and ready-to-read, the second really fell behind and seemed as if it had only been skimmed rather than scrutinized.
In short, I liked the idea of this book. I could see what the author was going for, and I enjoyed that quite a bit. I personally felt that the execution fell quite flat, though. My final thought on The Fifth Vertex? Those seven weeks that were skipped when Urus, Goodwyn, and Murin magically left Kest and found themselves on that road? That time, injected back into the story, strictly with character development and rounding out the edges of the world-building in mind, would've solved a lot of the issues I personally had with the story.

To sum it up -

Pros:
- A diverse cast of characters
- Interesting premise and magic
- Very unusual, bold overall setting
- Nice mixture of magic with a lot steampunk/dieselpunk-esque elements
- Fast-paced. This is not strictly a pro with me, but I know that many people prefer a much quicker story. I do not.
- The author is a good writer, despite the more frequent errors in the second half of the book

Cons:
- Fast-paced. Way, way too fast. Again, I realize that some people would flat out disagree with me, but I wanted this book to be one I could really sink my teeth into.
- Not nearly enough time was devoted strictly to exposition and development, character-wise and world-wise. I know normally too much exposition can and will ruin a story, but quite the opposite in this case.
- Sadly, characters felt flat and disconnected. Lack of introspection, lack of showing emotion, lack of reacting in ways that would've made them feel much more real
- Story is bloated with too much magic 'stuff' being introduced, and then absolutely nothing being done about it - no explanation, no time to understand it a little better, no follow-up on certain things that made absolutely no sense
- The ending cut off so abruptly that I thought I'd broken my ereader somehow when it didn't turn to the next page. I literally had no forewarning that it was coming to a close, and in this case, I'm not sure that the cliffhanger ending added to the book. It left me feeling dazed, annoyed, and unable to process the story for some time afterwards.
- Run-of-the-mill errors that were missed in the proofreading stage, particularly in the last third of the story - not groundbreaking, but obvious
- Cailix. I know that she was supposed to be a good, interesting female character, but to me, she felt far more like a token. 'Strong' does not equate to 'hungry for power', though it can be part of true character strength. Despite her power, she spent half of her scenes captured and looking for ways to escape. Strong, yes, perhaps, but she doesn't seem to have obvious motivation/goals apart from killing Anderis