Tuesday, August 18, 2015

David L. Burkhead's The Kinmar

Alright, let's set the table. We've got two magically powered knights. We've got an unknown number of human-animal crossbreeds known as Kinmar chasing them. The Kinmar have already burned a village full of humans and murdered a little girl. Things get intense. One of the knights is wounded. The other decides to act as bait. She's outnumbered. How could she win this fight? There is magic, known as the Knightbond exists and it would help if she were better at it... This thing just keeps moving. Granted, The Kinmar is a novella and not a full sized novel but I read the whole thing start to finish in somewhere south of forty minutes.

I was actually a bit sad about how quickly I got through this story. I was waiting outside of a place for a job interview and it didn't kill as much time as I needed it to. That much being said, it's actually a compliment for the story that I never once came up for air. There really wasn't time to. Burkhead has streamlined The Kinmar to the point where there is no natural place to pause, no wasted time to allow his reader's mind to wander. Once I opened this thing up I was hooked and it wouldn't let me go. It was a rollicking good time.

The magic in the book, the Knightbond, was well crafted. I'm a big fan of magic in books and an even bigger fan of magic that makes sense. The Knightbond is a type of magic that works but is limited. It takes a skilled practitioner and does not have unlimited ability to accomplish whatever it is used for. It also has uses not commonly seen in other magical systems, such as the ability to find another Knight simply by following the trail of the magic toward them. It combines effects of what a Dungeons and Dragons fan would call Arcane and Divine spells and has some of the trappings of piscine as well. Burkhead has done a good job of mixing ideas and including what works best without going the full Superman and making his characters too high powered.

Author David L. Burkhead also does something that every fantasy author should do: He gives us villains that are smart enough and have the physical capability to be a legitimate threat without turning them into unstoppable engines of death. The Kinmar have the capabilities that would logically come with their half animal forms (IE the bull is big and strong, the squirrel can climb trees well, the cat has a well-developed sense of smell, etc) and that makes sense. They also have the ability to use the same weapons that a human would. They're dangerous. The fact remains that they bleed when they're struck and they die if they bleed too much.

Missing altogether is any mention of religion and I'm not sure how I feel about that. Yes, I'm a Christian, but it's not the Christian religion I'm missing. Typically in fantasy fiction a magically powered knight would be a paladin and in service to one of the gods of good. Alternately, some universes have anti-paladins that have evil powers and serve the gods of evil. Burkhead's knights seem to gather their power from within rather than from an external source such as a god or goddess. I follow Mr Burkhead on Facebook and I know he doesn't really subscribe to a religion so maybe I'm just a little more sensitive to this than most readers would be but it still left an impression.

The Kinmar themselves are not quite as well fleshed out as I would like. There is evidence of a division in their ranks and ultimately their motivation for burning the village and killing people is revealed but it's kind of predictable. Some of this may be because this is a novella and not a multi-novel saga but it would have been a bit more fun to find out what they're thinking instead of simply seeing them as physical threats.  There is a lot still left to explore here.

Having brought that up, I'm going to go off on a rant that touches this story only tangentially.  The first page of the book lists the story Treva's Children being also in the series. It doesn't say which work comes first. I checked the Amazon listing. It doesn't mention a series or another book. Please, please, please, indy authors and publishers alike: I love reading series. So do lots of other people who read Science Fiction and Fantasy. Why is it so hard to include the phrase "Number ___ in the ___ series" at the beginning of the blurb? I can't speak to the rest of the world, but I don't read a series out of order if I can help it. If I'm searching online or browsing in a bookstore, the quickest way to lose a sale is to let me find out that a book is in a given series and leave me with no way to figure out what book starts the series. I'm not saying this to single out Mr Burkhead. He is far from the only one who does this. This is a general rant but I honestly believe that it could help sales and it only requires six words worth of typing. That's just me though.

Overall, there was a lot to like about this book and my complaints are minor. There was nothing here that really through me and I didn't even think about the religion thing until I started typing the review. I really enjoyed this work and I believe you will too.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 broadswords

The Kinmar
David L. Burkhead
Self Published, 2014

The Kinmar is available for purchase here:

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