Following immediately on the heels of events in Curse of the Spider King, this novel dives right into the action. I haven't read the first book; and, while common thought might be that I would do so before reading the sequel, it was important to this review that I see how well a new reader could pick up the characters and the gist of the story.
A writerly aside: What's the point of a story if the readers can't follow the action? One test of good storytelling is how easily the audience can understand what it's being told. Artistic abstruseness is just pretentious, and is more than likely the high-sounding veneer of a lazy writer.
Now, back to our main programming.
Despite the almost too-hectic and sometimes protracted action -- more is not necessarily more -- and the overwhelming number of characters, the opening scenes of Venom and Song weren't difficult to follow. I liked the idea of the amusement-park-ride-on-steroids that was "the good guys'" journey via an underground river.
As for all the characters, an ensemble cast can keep a story tense and active, make it confusing, or bleed away the intrigue because readers don't know who to root for or don't care about what happens to the main characters. It's a tough task for authors to not only clearly differentiate between characters, but also keep them interesting. Though I didn't really care about this novel's characters at the beginning -- that's probably just the curmudgeon in me -- there's an automatic connection for the target audience: since the seven Lords of Berinfell are teenagers, readers from middle grades through high school will probably have immediate sympathy for the characters and be interested in how their story plays out over the course of the series.
There is violence and some frightening incidents, but there is also friendship and courage, and learning how to live and move forward in unexpected and less-than-ideal circumstances, ones that the characters did not choose. I would certainly let my 12-year-old niece read this book.
Other stops on the tour:
Morgan L. Busse
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Rachel Starr Thomson
In conjunction with the CSSF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.