Gold for Steel: Book One of The Gates of Kastriel by Charles Dixon
Genre – Epic Fantasy
About the Book – Mercs and a Girl
“After a major victory in battle, Dalvin, Marco, and Oremund are becoming local legends. With the growth of their names come a deadly contract with an equally impressive bounty. Though the job seems impossible, the reward for success is too great to turn down. Upon accepting the contract, the trio of sellswords find their loyalty and trust to one another tested and in some ways irreparable.
Meanwhile, Iman, a foreign priestess is trying to keep herself and her companions safe as they are hunted by a deadly assassin. After crossing paths with the sellswords, she finds herself in desperate need of their help. The secret she and her companions carry may determine the fate for all of the realms. Hunted by a vicious orc, the priestess is unsure how many times she will be able to escape death’s grasp. A lost treasure is set to alter the direction of humanity, and she is forced to protect it.” – Publisher’s Blurb
The Review – Gold for Steel has Some Cracks
We wanted to like this book, and there is a part of us that does. Gold and Steel is a well-written fantasy adventure. Dalvin, Marco, and Oremund are good characters, each with a personality of their own. We liked Iman as well, another strong character. So far so good. The world building is on point here, with the world that exists within Gold and Steel feeling vibrant and alive. There is only one gripe from us, and that is a strangely unreliable narrator. Now, if we thought this was intentional, we wouldn’t give it a second thought. Maybe unreliable is not quite the right word. Unknowledgeable perhaps? No, that’s not quite right either. The story telling in this book is just plain lazy.
Since it first happens in the beginning of the book, we aren’t afraid to share it, but we found the style frustrating. In the first scene our mercenary friends are doing battle with a massive winged creature, it flies high in the sky and has talons. It takes over a page of exposition until Mister Dixon flatly tells us that it is a griffin. The griffin isn’t really described at all before that and we never really get the vivid description we would have liked. Furthermore the entire battle plays out in a manner that our minds just aren’t ready to accept, which sets us up for frustration and confusion. We know it’s a fantasy, but it would require an outlawing of disbelief for the scene to play out as written.
So, we will admit, the griffin incident plays a role throughout the novel. As well, a portion of the incredulous encounter is explained later. However, the problem that is explained was never one of the central issues that we had. The way the scene was continually addressed, we were expecting it to have been the work of an unreliable narrator or something akin to one. It would have been an intelligent and interesting way to have handled the problems and inconsistencies in the scene. Unfortunately, nothing interesting ever came to be and the explanation left us more frustrated than our initial impressions.
More than Annoyed
Setting us up for ire, if the griffin was the only black mark on the narrative we would have probably let it slide. Scenes that just don’t work often make it into novels, but the sheer number of scenes that don’t work in Gold for Steel gives us pause. The whole thing plays out likely a heavily contrived, but not superbly written, role-playing game campaign. Things that matter are glossed over, there is far more telling than showing, and some scenes feel like they were added in to pad the length. In the end, the author attempts to force a story that just doesn’t quite fit from the sum of its parts. It just doesn’t quite make sense, and we can’t think of a way to fix it that wouldn’t involve a massive rewrite.
What does this mean? Mired in mediocrity, Gold for Steel can’t deliver more than a handful of good moments. While promise exists in the pages, it never shows through as more than a glimmer. All of this means that Gold for Steel is a mere shadow of what it could have been.
The Rating – Solid C
We may be too generous with our rating here. While above average in some areas, Gold for Steel lacks the imagination necessary to bring the details to life. This is why the old adage is so important: show, don’t tell. This tome could have used more showing, and much less telling. As well, it could have used a more discerning editor, one who wasn’t afraid to appraise the details of the book and to test them when they strained credibility. There was a lot of promise in Gold for Steel, and with Mister Dixon’s writing, but nothing quite bore fruit.
Also, just to reiterate: we would fight a griffin ourselves to defend our appraisal of that abysmal opening scene. However, if you don’t believe us, feel free to check it out for yourself.