“Long live the Prince.”
Here we go again! Today’s book review (and my longest book review of all time) is all about The Gräzland Tales by Trevor Van Winkle.
This review will be slightly different to the reviews I’ve written previously, mainly because The Gräzland Tales is FOUR books long! I’ll be reviewing each section of the series individually, which will hopefully give you a great idea of what to expect in each.
For centuries, legend spoke of a Prince who was born to save the world. But now, that Prince – Alexi Of The Vale, is dead. We read journal entries about a journey North and about the not so easy task of scattering the Prince’s ashes. We hear countless stories and experiences of this journey, which make it a unique and unforgettable reading experience. At least it was for me!
Book 1: Between The Walls Of Night
I’ll be honest. I read the first two chapters of Book 1. Then, I stopped and realised that I was finding it difficult to take in the information. Perhaps this was due to the genre or how different the telling of this story was from anything I’d read before. After this, I had a word with myself and started the book from the beginning once more. To my joy, everything finally started to click into place!
This book is written in the style of a journal. Each chapter is a diary entry of a father who has been chosen to travel to the North to scatter the ashes of the recently passed Prince. I love how these journal entries had been recovered by the man’s son many years later.
I really loved the angle Trevor has taken with this book. It brings something fresh to the table and these days, it’s rare to read something that hasn’t been done before. Well, perhaps it has, but I’m yet to read it! One particular thing I picked up on and liked throughout reading was the way an unfamiliar term was addressed throughout one of the journal entries:
“Should I explain that? I hope not. Unless some Outerlier or backwards Dwarfish is reading this, they should know their feast days at least.”
Trevor has cleverly made sure that readers of many levels are able to comprehend the text, especially someone like me who doesn’t tend to read fantasy novels and isn’t down with the lingo! I for one appreciated the extra info – it really added to my experience of the book.
As we’re introduced to our main character, it’s easy to get to know him. We understand his personality and his feelings towards different things. It’s raw. It really sets up the story nicely in my eyes. As the journey North begins, we experience communications with other minor characters as well as some really great description about the surroundings. It really reminded me of Lord Of The Rings or The Hobbit! I was intrigued to see whether the rest of Book 1 was just as energetic and adventurous.
“Fear of the unknown is bad enough…the terror of the unknowing is so much worse.”
As things get more nail biting on the journey, I couldn’t help but think about how unrealistic it would be for someone to write a journal entry in so much depth and with so much description. In parts, it just sounds like a story, then has a sentence or two reminding you that it is, in fact, a recount of events. Of course, without this amount of detail, the book wouldn’t be anywhere near as good, but it did make me think. However, the description to keep the reader interested and excited about the story was there, which is definitely the main priority!
As Book 1 ended, I felt like something had been missing throughout what I’d read so far. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I couldn’t put my finger on it for ages! Then it hit me – no dialogue. I think it’s great that Trevor was able to keep my/a reader’s interest through using very little to no dialogue, but there is a part of our characters that we never see. How they converse with others is a big way of becoming close to a character, but we didn’t see any of this here. Even so, I still enjoyed reading and I hoped this joy and interest would continue throughout the rest of the series regardless.
Book 2: Behind The Dark Of Days
Book 2 began with a bold statement, just like the first book. Instantly, we know what this part of the journey will entail and quite frankly, it sounded just as exciting as the first! I really liked how we got to know the main character’s main goal here, and what he and the team are setting out to achieve.
I absolutely must mention a few small touches within different journal entries in Book 2, where some words had been formatted with a strike-through to make it look as though they had been crossed out – genius! The small things definitely make a big difference. It made things pop out and come alive – again, something I’ve never seen before in a novel.
This part of the journey really shows us what’s lurking in the shadows of the Gräzlands and beyond and we can really feel the terror from Trevor’s description. As each day ends and the new days begin, you always know there’s going to be some sort of adventure. No day is dull, no day makes you feel as though you just read your average journal entry, (yeah, I’m pretty sure mine were terrible as a kid.) Trevor has put that much expression into his characters and has made sure that as a reader, we’re all eager to continue, page after page.
“All their light can do is cast twisted images in the walls, like long-dead visions of the Dark-Days.”
I didn’t find anything too different from the first Book here which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I feel like there’s only so much you can do with this certain style of story anyway – where the events have already happened and the character is simply reliving and describing his experiences. I think there is still enough action to keep you interested.
However, I couldn’t help but feel the last chapter of Book two was a little rushed. It’s funny, because even though I felt this way, I also felt like it was a creative way to end the book, leaving us wonder how on Earth Book three will turn out. There were short snippets of text signifying a number of different days our MC is locked away – we get limited information but at the same time, it does build up anticipation for the next part of the series. Very mixed feelings!
Book 3: Beneath The Spires Of Solace
Book 3 begins with a summary of where our character has ended up. He’s become prisoner in a strange new place thanks to the laws of the council of Aelfal. He thanks those who have made a significant impact on his time there and repeats the lessons he learned from his old priest previously, that will, hopefully, see him right.
Again, the description of surroundings from the very first chapter of book 3 really stood out to me. Even something as simple as sitting in a library surrounded by books was made to feel comfortable and enlightening, (but I’m sure many bookworms reading can relate to this anyway!)
We even get a great description of what life was like in the Vale many years ago, in the days before the sun, ‘when Creation’s Fire had burnt out and the stars hid themselves’. Trevor even builds up the incredible story of the World-Serpent. Yet another story stored deep into the past that we get to listen to and learn about! For me, all this extra information makes for a more solid fantasy world, something much more ‘believable’ and one that will certainly stick in your brain.
After this point, there seems to be a lot more story-telling from the character about things that aren’t necessarily going on in his story – more in the past. There’s also much more dialogue to read through than there was in the first two books. I felt as though I was waiting for the main character’s story to start for a while, and we didn’t get to this point until chapter 4. I do understand (like I’ve stated before) that backstory is really important for things to make sense, but is this amount necessary? Again, I feel like there are definitely pros and cons to this, and I do like the fact that Trevor has really thought hard about his backstory. His creativity is faultless, I must say!
“And so begins the tale of the World-Serpent…”
A really interesting chapter I found was towards the end of this book where the first sentence begins with, “There was a prince in Whelspring.” I couldn’t help but think this was a crucial section of the story and how we learn a little more about the fallen prince, Alexi. As important as this chapter is as we close in on the end of the story, we do, again, steer clear of our main character’s story. I feel like this book was less about our MC and more about fitting all the pieces of the series together ready for the finale. I quite liked this change, however, and felt like more things were falling into place and some unanswered questions were explored.
The final chapter explores the story of our MC’s mother and father. Trevor tells us an emotional story, including how little he can remember his father and how his parents lived their lives. This particular part of the series was the first time my emotions were captured and I really felt for the MC. I had a feeling that this was done at the end of this book for a reason. I was really eager to find out how Book 4 rounded off the series!
Book 4: Before The Heights Of Legend
Finally out of his cell, our MC is once again free to continue his journey North. However, he’s not totally out of danger just yet. We hear the recount of how he escaped by the skin of his teeth and how he was finally able to continue with the task he set out to do. The recount sounds like a difficult struggle and it was great to read so much action in the first chapter of the final book.
Soon after, we welcome back an old character, someone that no one expected would survive an ambush. Our MC isn’t quite sure what to make of this. How did he return? Is he being hunted? Is he still a wanted man? This also makes us as a reader really apprehensive, as we’re not sure whether we can trust the character at this point.
After the arduous journey to scatter the prince’s ashes and after he suffers blow, our main character begins to get over the guilt he once felt. It teaches you a lesson in a way – it’s not always the final destination that counts, but the journey it took. I really liked how things didn’t always go to plan (as you can expect in many stories), and because of this, we get a much more memorable, enjoyable story out of it.
“Welcome back, old friend; soon, you will be home.”
I really enjoyed the amount of action and suspense in the final book – I think this was my favourite of the four! Trevor has cleverly rounded off the series leaving no stone unturned, no character unexplored and, well, maybe a few questions left unanswered… The epilogue is such a great addition to the ending of the book – it even brought a tear to my eye!
As far as my experience of reading fantasy novels goes, this series really sets the bar high for me. I really enjoyed travelling back in time through journal entries and I found that Trevor has really hit the nail on the head when it comes to trying something unique to capture his readers.
Even though some parts of the series were difficult to read for me, I did put this down to the fact that I’ve simply not read enough fantasy! I am very excited to read future work from Trevor and I’m certain he will create yet more impressive fantasy worlds for us to enjoy in future.
Thanks so much to Trevor for the opportunity to read and review The Gräzland Tales! You can purchase your own copy of each book in the series on Amazon, available on Kindle and paperback. 📚 You can follow Trevor over on Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date!
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