The Starless Crown by James Rollins (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


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Read A Paean To Myrillia (The Godslayer Chronicles World And Series Analysis
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Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of The Devil Colony
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of The Blood Gospel
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Q&A with James Rollins (James Clemens)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: James Rollins is the pen name of Jim Czajkowski and is the New York TimesUSA Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of The SIGMA series. Jim also previously wrote fantasy under the pseudonym James ClemensThe Banned and the Banished, the Godslayer Chronicles—and has penned the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull movie novelization. Jim is also a veterinarian in Northern California and often can be found underground or underwater as an amateur spelunker and scuba diver.

OFFICIAL BLURB: A gifted student foretells an apocalypse. Her reward is a sentence of death.

Fleeing into the unknown she is drawn into a team of outcasts:

A broken soldier, who once again takes up the weapons he’s forbidden to wield and carves a trail back home.

A drunken prince, who steps out from his beloved brother's shadow and claims a purpose of his own.

An imprisoned thief, who escapes the crushing dark and discovers a gleaming artifact - one that will ignite a power struggle across the globe.

On the run, hunted by enemies old and new, they must learn to trust each other in order to survive in a world evolved in strange, beautiful, and deadly ways, and uncover ancient secrets that hold the key to their salvation.

But with each passing moment, doom draws closer.


FORMAT/INFO: The Starless Crown is 560 pages long divided over sixty-three numbered chapters (spread over seventeen titled sections), with a unnumbered chapter (possibly set in the future), & a prologue titled “before”. Narration is in third person via Nyx, Rhaif, Prince Kanthe, Graylin, Prince Mikaen, & Iflelen Wryth. This is the first book in the Moon Fall Series.
January 4th, 2022 will mark the e-book and hardback publication of The Starless Crown and it will be published by Tor Books. 

CLASSIFICATION: Imagine Deep Impact crossed with Lord Of The Rings and written with Michael Crichton's imaginative flair.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Fifteen years and 2 months, or 115,039 days, any which way you count it. It has been one hell of a long wait for James Clemens to return to his fantasy roots. He is wiser (as they say with age); certainly a more refined writer and has a different surname (borrowing from his thriller alias). Moreover, he is back in 2022 with a brand new fantasy series titled The Moonfall saga.

Primarily I must confess I am an unabashed James Rollins-Clemens fan since the time I first read Excavation and Wit’ch Fire. Since then I have read all of his books and particularly loved his epic fantasy works. It would also be safe to proclaim my ardent devotion of his Godslayer Chronicles and you can read my piece about the saga (why it enthralls me) and how patiently I’ve been waiting for the third chronicle & the future series volumes (It’s been over fifteen years as I type this so GRRM/Rothfuss fans take a seat).

The Moonfall saga is James’ newest foray back into fantasy that also combines his Rollins’ approach to unique world environments. Here we are introduced to a secondary fantasy world (called Urth) which has stopped rotating on its axis and now has one hemisphere, which is scorching hot, and the other one is frozen cold. This isn’t just a cool gimmick but also is explored fascinatingly as it has molded landscapes along with the flora & fauna. Plus he has interspersed these details within the story without making it seem like an obvious infodump. The story begins with an event in the past (another favourite Rollins twist) and possibly an unnamed person reminiscing & narrating events of the past (Clemens fans should recognize this scheme). The story then slowly unfolds as the reader is slowly immersed alongside the POV characters and their worlds within.

The plot has four main characters however, we get to begin with these three:

-        Nyx is a visually challenged, seventh year student at the Cloistery of Brayk. Due to a certain accident back when she was a newborn, which left her with clouded vision and sees the world in a shadowy manner. That event also left her an orphan, not truly knowing about her parentage.

-        Rhaif is a thief who is enslaved in a chalk mine and is wasting his life away. Wanting revenge against his former guild who betrayed him. He finds something in the mines that propels him to escape his circumstances.

-        Prince Kanthe ry Massif is the second born twin son of King Toranth and is rather scandalously known as the Sodden Prince, the Tallywag or the Dark Trifle. He’s been looked down upon all his life and he doesn’t really know what he’s meant to do.

Lastly the fourth main POV gets introduced around the halfway point and it’s Graylin sy Moor, a disgraced knight who has been exiled for an illicit liaison with a royal concubine. He’s has the least to do in this book but that doesn’t mean that his character arc is any less important. Besides these four, there are other minor POV and non-POV characters who are pivotal to the story and our main POV characters. There’s also one possibly non-human character who doesn’t get a POV but is a huge factor driving the plot and its eventual climax.

Mainly the highlight of this story is the world and all of its unique features due to its apocalyptic rotation stoppage in the faraway past. This has created several distinctive landscapes, flora and fauna, which the author delightfully exposes within the story. Be it from the poisonous frog-piranha hybrid amphibian called Pyrantha (which bring to mind a similar breed of poisonous piranhas from Amazonia, James’ standalone set in the titular region in South America) to the various locales. James Rollins the author also features a unique environment, which is a character in itself. For previous Rollins/Clemens readers, this is something familiar but for newer readers it will be an experience in itself.

Secondly, the characters are a vivid lot and all have lots of baggage. The author tries to exploit their backgrounds while teasing a lot more and we do get some intriguing hints about future character arcs as well as potential clashes. While Rhaif and Kanthe are important POV characters, Nyx holds the main narrative as we get to learn what made her the way she is and what her lineage (possibly) is. The author also has a knack of giving his characters wonderful animal companions and here both Nyx and Graylin have fascinating sidekicks of the mammalian variety and I for one would love more of this. The best character in  my opinion was Rhaif, a thief whose past betrayal has lead him to make himself closeted with his emotions. It is his discovery of Shiya that propels most of the events and I for one would love to see what the future holds for his bond with Pratik and Shiya. 

Nyx while being the central focus of the plot in The Starless Crown is a close second as she reminds me a lot of Elena (Banned & Banished) & Dart (The Godslayer Chronicles). James certainly knows how to create vulnerable young female characters with a core of steel and upon whose shoulders the crux of the main plot is balanced in an Atlas-like fashion. Nyx is an fascinating character with her mix of vulnerability, partial blindness & her intelligence as she discovers more about the world and her powers. I can’t wait to read her evolution in the future volumes as looking back at Elena’s and Dart’s arcs only promise further greatness mixed in with ruthless heartbreak.

This book is over 200K words long and the author has to sacrifice his normal plot pace for making the readers grounded into the world of Urth and the lives of his characters. This is a stark change for his previous Rollins books that are usually so pacey and with such momentum. The Clemens fantasy books were similarly structured but none come close to matching The Starless Crown’s page/word count. So many a reader might be stymied with the slightly turgid pace of the plot.

As a fan, this book was a tremendous read as it introduced an alien world and an apocalyptic prophecy of doom. The author also does “a story within a story” structure (similar to the Banned & Banished saga, however it is slightly less Meta as the Banned & Banished had “a story within a story within a story” structure). However as an objective reviewer, the biggest drawback of the story is that it feels like a one giant prologue to the actual story that’s yet to begin. In this regards, The Starless Crown is similarly structured to The Darkness That Comes Before (R Scott Bakker’s philosophically dense debut). Wherein the first book lays down the groundwork for the saga ahead in its initial 80-85% and the latter 15-20% is where a lot more action and plot revelations are unspooled, whilst also ending on a terrific climatic fight & revelation(s).

I have to make a mention of this for those who are new to Rollins’ work as well those familiar with his past stories as he treads new ground with his return. As I have mentioned before, it has been fifteen years and 2 months, or 115,039 days from his last fantasy release to the release of The Starless Crown next week. For a reader who has been patiently awaiting for one of his favourite writer’s epic fantasy come back. The Starless Crown marks a triumphant return of a writer who has managed to carve out a unique style across two different genres. James Rollins is a changed writer and it shows herewith just how much. The Moonfall saga is filled to the brim with a unique world scenario, a solid cast of characters with complex motivations and unknown futures and lastly is piloted by a writer whose imagination runs rampant like none other in the fantasy genre.

CONCLUSION: The Starless Crown is one hell of a story, and while it isn’t perfect, it does enough distinctive things to mark itself out to be the special story that the author intended it to be. I encourage you to lose yourself within this alluring story of a world that is already apocalyptically damaged and now has a band of would-be heroes that are striving to prevent its utter annihilation.

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