Writing this review is such a dilemma for me. I absolutely loved the story and the creative ideas Black has come up with. And the story ends with a cliffhanger that made me scream with rage. But as in many other indie novels I’ve read and reviewed, I have issues with the writing. And if you’ve read my reviews on a regular basis you’ll know bad writing is a real pet peeve of mine. So I’m giving The Realms of Animar four stars for the story, the pacing, and the incredible world Owen Black has created. As for the writing, it needs more work, but let’s talk about the creative elements first.
Animar is a wonderful creation, where “polymorphs” are divided into four main realms of life: Avian, Aquan, Carnic, and Herbic. Every person in Animar is able to change into an animal form at will. The story focuses on the settlement of Avryndale, a gathering of herbivores who live peacefully within a walled city that keeps out the dangerous carnivores. Thane is a fifteen-year-old boy whose animal form is a horse, and he wants nothing more than to run in the forests outside the walls. But when he and his friend Javan sneak out one day, they witness the terrible deaths of several members of the community by a vulture spy and a pack of hyenas that have been sent by the leader of the carnivores, an evil creature named Fatalis. Fatalis wants to rule all of Animar, and in order to do so he must locate the other realms and kill every creature that is not a carnivore.
After discovering Avryndale’s location, Fatalis sends a pack of wolves to invade the settlement and kill Thane, the son of the settlement’s leader, Avryn. Among them is a wolf named Mordigal, who has a secret. Long ago he fell in love with an Avian named Trussil, but she left him to live in Avryndale and follow her calling to be a teacher. As Mordigal and the other wolves break into the compound and prepare to carry out their orders, Mordigal senses the presence of the woman he still loves and manages to save her from the attack of another wolf. Their reunion is short-lived, however, as Mordigal is captured and imprisoned. But he makes a deal with Avryn to join the herbivores and fight against Fatalis, who is staging a huge battle against the peaceful animals.
In order to prepare for the fight, Avryn sends his most trusted people to contact other factions in Animar to join them, including the elusive and dangerous Aquans. Guderian, the herbivore sent to convince the Aquans to join forces with them, manages to make contact and is taken to the Aquan realm in one of my favorite parts of the book.
Back in Avryndale, Thane discovers he can change into something other than a horse, a fact that startles many in the settlement. Other abilities emerge as Thane trains for battle: he is able to disappear and reappear in another location, which makes him a dangerous weapon against Fatalis’ forces. As the herbivores prepare their once-peaceful town for the inevitable attack, Fatalis and his immense army arrive in force, and the fighting begins.
The story is filled with many imaginative details that make the world of Animar unique. Wearing or holding metal objects makes it impossible to change forms, and Fatalis gleefully uses this to his advantage by shoeing horses to keep them in animal form. The descriptions of the different realms were very well done, especially the Aquan realm where Guderian is taken underwater to speak to the leader. I also loved the Avians, who live at the tops of trees on wooden platforms, where those too young or old to fly live in fear of falling to the forest below.
But unfortunately, all of this creative world-building gets lost under unpolished writing, and much of the magic of the story loses its impact. The style Black has chosen is formal and overwritten, with a gothic feel that may have been intentional, but would have worked better if the writing had been stronger. Strange word usage throughout pulled me out of the story. Phrases like “Thane’s eyes bolted to life” and “smells meandering” struck me as funny, and even though I understood their meaning, I was left wondering why Black chose to use certain words. As far as character development goes, Black gives his characters emotional and engaging back-stories, but fails in the dialog department, where many of them come across as juvenile. In the end it all comes down to a serious lack of editing and proofreading, which is one of the worst pitfalls of self-publishing.
The Realms of Animar is a truly unique fantasy that gives the reader a fully realized world that is easy to get lost in, but clumsy writing and editing detracts from the reading experience. Black leaves us with a delightfully frustrating cliff-hanger of an ending, which implies that he is setting us up for a sequel, and I’m hoping he takes the time to work on some of his writing mistakes before releasing the next book. If he can, I will certainly be in line to read it.
Many thanks to the author for supplying a review copy.