Some books are fast-paced romps; some are even-paced, methodical grippers; and some are just boring. While Pawns, book 1 of Patrick Hodges’ Wielders of Arantha series is not a rollercoaster-ride of a tale, it’s anything but boring. I suppose, to put it into words, it’s a slow burn that builds to a comfortable, engaging pace.
Hodges’ Wielders series is a science fantasy story set several hundred years in Earth’s future. The first of the main characters is Maeve, a mother who escapes the recently-conquered birthplace of humanity with her son and their ship’s engineer. They make it to the distant Castelan VI, a world that has only advanced to early middle-ages technology. There, they meet the other main character, the leader of an all-female tribe hidden from the rest of world.
It takes a good while for the main characters to meet up, but that’s okay, their individual stories were interesting enough to keep me engaged. Aside from a few very minor character issues, I found the storytelling and writing on-par, and even better than some, with several big-publisher authors I’ve read.
I have to say, my favorite part in the book comes rather late when a character Vaxi is saved and healed. When she wakes, having no knowledge of how she got there, she immediately punches her savior in the face. We don’t see this from her perspective, which lets the absurdity of it come through well.
While I do have a few bones to pick, these are not big issues and certainly did not ruin the story for me. The first issue happens when Maeve is swimming in a lake alone. Out of the entire book, this scene has the one sexualized instance. Here we have a woman who’s alone with her son—who’s not present at the moment—just a few days after her husband and most of her friends have died in a harrowing escape, and she takes a second to admire her body and tweak her nipple? I mean, I see—sort of—why he did it. He wanted the embarrassing situation when she realizes she’s being watched by a stranger as well as to develop the later, albeit mild, sexual tension between her and that stranger. Personally, I think this could just have easily have been done without the nipple tweaking. Just being found alone in a lake, naked would be enough for most people.
My other issue is really more about frustration at having to wait for the sequel. The first book ends kind of right in the middle of the story. There is a minor climactic scene involving Maeve getting hurt, but the resolution is kind of predictable. Though, I enjoyed seeing the resolution and fallout from it. My issue is that I wanted either a bit of a resolution for the end of the book or a stronger cliff-hanger.
Now that I’ve laid out my issues, understand that for me these were very minor. Hodges does a good job of keeping the tension throughout the story, especially for a science fantasy tale that has very little actual fighting. The characters are individuals and even the side characters feel like more than just fluff. He also does, in this guy’s opinion for what it’s worth, a pretty good job of writing from several female perspectives. He doesn’t make the women weak or fluffy. And while the issue of male vs female is a rather central issue in the story, each of the women is their own and do not live their lives through the male characters.
For Hodges first foray into science fantasy, I think he’s done a pretty damn good job. I very much enjoyed reading The Wielders of Arantha Book One: Pawns and look forward to book two. I have a feeling we’ll get to learn more about the stakes of the great galactic game and who the unseen hand belongs to that’s moving all of the pieces on the board.