BOOK REVIEW: Lichgates by S.M. Boyce
The Grimoire turns its own pages and can answer any question asked of it, and Kara Magari is its next target. She has no idea what she’s getting herself into when she stumbles across the old book while hiking a hidden trail. Once she opens it, she’s thrown into Ourea: a beautiful world full of terrifying things that want the Grimoire’s secrets. Everyone in this new world is trying to find her, and most want to control the new-found power the book bestows upon her. Even if Kara does escape, Ourea will only drag her back.
I gotta kick this off by saying this is NOT my usual genre. So it’s natural that there’d be some keystones to the genre present in this novel that wouldn’t be quite my thing. That said, you can imagine my surprise when even some of those things at times became my favorite parts of the novel. The tone of this novel was just right—serious with a few sprinkles of humor. It’s an easy read that would be suitable for adults and young adults alike. I did think it was YA initially, but it turns out the MC is actually 20—though this detail was often easy to forget! This might work for a New Adult novel crossing over into YA. I really enjoyed reading this, and I think the concept alone is the stuff bestsellers are made of … so WATCH OUT for this one, kay? If you want something to compare it to, I’d say it reminded me a bit of the Neverending Story in some ways, but was mostly just its own thing, packed with AMAZING world building and intriguing new supernatural races.
I feel like there’s nothing I can say to do justice to this story. It’s just a neat adventure! Kara stumbles through a lichgate (like a magical portal) into a whole new world where she ends up being chosen by the Grimoire (a book) to become the next Vagabond (intended to bring peace between the kingdoms in this parallel world). This novel in particular is about Kara learning what she’s intended to do, learning her fate, and also her exerting her own free will to accept her fate without letting her fate rule her decisions and overpower her heart. There’s some great themes in that alone. The journey itself is an introduction to the world while as Kara navigates from kingdom to kingdom collecting map pieces and learning more about the species of Ourea and all that the Grimoire and the ghost of the first Vagabond have to teach her. And, yeah, she learns a few neat magic tricks along the way.
As for the world building, it’s amazing and complex. I admit that even after reading the whole book I’m not sure I fully understand it all or remember how it all works 100%, BUT the cool thing is that you don’t really need to remember everything inside and out to follow the story and enjoy it. It’s a big world Boyce has created here, and I’m glad she didn’t waste time in the story beating the reader over the head with world-building details when there were things to be done!
This is an action-packed adventure with one fight scene after the next, leaving you with little chance to breath. I think anyone else would have just adored this aspect to pieces. Thing is, I’m not really big on action scenes, which is no fault to the author, but I actually want to compliment Ms. Boyce here because any other book containing this many action scenes I probably wouldn’t have been able to finish reading, and yet with her novel I STILL felt the pacing was brilliant, and there was even one action scene that had me clinging to every word!!!
The real star of the show for me was those scenes between characters and those highly emotional moments that Kara has reflecting on her parents death, being forced to relive those moments, and struggling to accept her life exists without them. And in these parts, it also felt like the story just flew by and I just wanted more more more of this because I was so moved and affected. Ms. Boyce has some SERIOUS skill in making the reader FEEL for the character. Very powerful indeed. You do not often get emotion like this in genre fiction; in fact, I cannot remember the last time I felt this way while reading a genre novel.
Easily accessible and at times just purely poetic, beautiful, and clever! It’s not flashy or overdone, nor is it simplistic to the point of being dull. I am also a fan of SM Boyce’s blog, and one thing I noticed is her blog voice is different from her narrative voice, but I think that has to do with tone. IF (and it’s a big if) I were to beg SM Boyce for one thing, it would be to show more character personality THROUGH the narrative voice, but that’s only because her characters are so awesome and I want to be closer to them. Which brings me to my next point!
I really, REALLY, *adore* Kara. She’s complex, believable, strong, kind, intelligent. But she’s not *perfect* or obsessed over in a love-interest way by everyone in the novel (which is what makes so many fantasy female leads irritating these days!). Kara is loved by many for non-romantic reasons (and for good cause) but also hated and endangered by many as well. She’s got a bit of snark in her from time to time, but there’s so much more to her than that, and I’m so glad Ms. Boyce didn’t undersell her character by using a crutch personality trait. Instead, Kara is richly complex. She has her moment of immaturity, but overall is ahead of years. She had a moment where she seemed uncompassionate, but she’s also full of hope and acceptance of her new life, so in the end you can’t help but love her. Plus, the emotion in this girl! I think she might be stronger than me because I cried for her more often than she cried for herself—and that just goes to show how clever SM Boyce is when it comes to writing emotion and being in tune with her characters.
Then there was Braeden. Oh, Braeden, how I really had zero interest in your POV initially. I thought at first that maybe the author didn’t connect as well with him, but as I read on, I realized the issue was just that his first few chapters are action-packed, which isn’t my thing. Once I got to see Braeden in the regular story moments, I really came to love his personality and complexities. And, he had me laughing out loud even more than Kara! He’s such a fun, fun character. In some ways he’s more hardened than Kara but in other ways he’s also a bit less mature and has a younger, more playful attitude. And, of course, you’re rooting for him and Kara to get together. I won’t say more than that, and I wouldn’t say this story has much of a focus on romance, but I will say that I’m betting the romance between Kara and Braeden will turn into something EPIC over the course of the rest of the series.
Regarding the First Vagabond: All I can say is the Vagabond has the best “voice” in the book and he made me laugh several times as well. If I could “do” anyone in this book, it’d be the first vagabond… If I can make a special request to the author, perhaps we can see the first Vagabond at least without his shirt on in one of the upcoming Grimoire trilogy books.
As for the secondary characters, I REALLY loved the lore of the Isen (not saying more than that. You’ll have to read to find out. It’s SO original and SO SO SO cool that I’d love a book that focuses just on this species!) and I also really liked the character named “Twin”. She’s tender, simple, hurting, and just a sweetie-pie who manages to make jokes through it all.
On a minor note, there were a few sporadic moments where characters did things that didn’t make sense, but I think this stems from reality. Sometimes people do stupid things or things that don’t make sense. They go down that dark alley even when their gut tells them there’s a demon crouched behind the dumpster. Why? Well, if I can take a moment to psychoanalyze, I think it’s because we’re pretty much raised in a society that tells us those kinds of fears are irrational. Don’t be afraid of the dark. Don’t fear the things in horror movies, they aren’t real. That sort of thing. So, to be honest, I can get behind a character who plays the “horror movie card” because in real life, we’d probably do the same thing. And in real life, probably nothing would come of it. But that’s the beauty of fiction. It’s so much more interesting for those fears to be realized *insert evil laughter*. Some of the other things (which were super minor—I’m talking like a line here and there, less than I can count on one hand) I think were just a matter of not being able to follow the motivation of the character and the moment not being important enough for elaboration.
I had a lot to say here because this is where things really shined.
There are lots of delicious themes here. Fate versus free will. The consequences of our decisions. The power of self sacrifice. War against peace. Hiding your true self and illusions and perceptions and so much more.
There was a point or two where I felt like a chapter must have been left out. I even went back and read to see if I missed something. Then there was another point where I felt like maybe a few paragraphs were missing because I couldn’t understand why the characters were going to do something. That said, those little things did not interfere with my overall enjoyment of the story, AND it was probably just me. Also, I have to commend Boyce because series withstanding, this book ALONE is epic. And somehow she managed to keep it at a normal length for a fantasy book. So it may just have been that she left out the parts most would find boring and unnecessary.
Didn’t see any major logic flaws where the story was concerned, which is a pretty major thing and no small feat when you consider the epic complexity of this world and plot line.
KICK ASS! My only complaint would be that Boyce didn’t have MORE dialogue. She’s so so so good at it. It’s natural, it flows, it feels real but isn’t awkward in the way dialogue would be if you directly mimicked real speech. Gah. Really. Can’t say enough good things about her dialogue. Her dialogue scenes totally swept me off my feet and made me forget I was reading. Can I change the rules and give this category 6 stars? Really, the dialogue was THAT good. Only better.
Readers of this genre will ADORE the highly-detailed descriptions of setting in this novel. And if you don’t like long descriptions, the good news is that Boyce doesn’t trick you by sneaking it in all over the place. She sets the scene, then moves on with the action. So if you aren’t big into setting, you can easily just breeze over those passages and get on with it.
Point of View and Editing
I have excluded these two things from my review because the author was in the midst of a second edition where she was addressing some bloopers that slipped by initially. That said, I have to say that even with the older edition I had, there were very few errors in this regard. I’m jealous. My first edition was a much bigger mess … but let’s not go there. Suffice to say, I wouldn’t be surprised if Boyce’s new edition is flawless.
While the ending was a bit anti-climatic in terms of action (maybe because her book is already packed with action so how can you go from there? I personally thought the most exciting part of the book was a scene that takes place in Losse. Not saying more than that because spoilers suck dirty monkey toes). Anyway, I thought that ending was thematic and really a good hook for book 2 while still giving closure to this chapter in Kara’s adventure. OH and the EPILOGE. Good Grief! That really did me in. LOVED it! EEP! SQUEE! EEEK! AHHHHH! Yeah. It’s that good.
I adored LICHGATES. It’s not my usual read, but Boyce is an exceptional writer with a very clever, POW story to tell. This would make a great movie. A great book. A great TV show. Great everything. I mean, Boyce sells it at the concept, but she doesn’t stop there. She delivers. If I loved Lichgates this much (being outside the usual audience), I don’t see how a fan of the genre couldn’t want to marry this book. Seriously. Buy it. Say “I do”. And with this book, I thee wed.
I would recommend this novel to others, and I’d read more from this author.
Rebecca Hamilton writes Paranormal Fantasy, Gothic Horror, and Literary Fiction. She is represented by the ever-more-amazing Rossano Trentin of TZLA.
To purchase her books, please visit Paranormal Fantasy Books.