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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 June 2002
Like the previous reviewers I was finding much fantasy writing stale (I was reading Stone of Tears at the same time as The One Kingdom which proved a useful contrast). The One Kingdom is a marvellous, leisurely paced book without many of the usual fantasy cliches. You get a real sense that the main characters are being slowly but irresistably drawn into a greater story with its origins in the distant past. The magic is low key evoking mystery rather than wizz bang pyrotechnics. I can't wait for the second part! Knights of the Vow = Knights Templar?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2002
This is a beautiful book. The plot is intricately woven,layers building one on another, and the characters are believable, flawed, and human. The atmosphere is tense at times, and yet there is something dreamlike and at times idyllic in a relaxed kind of way. A book that will drop images into your mind and induce a variety of moods. I was impressed. And then horrified that I'll have to wait almost a year for the sequel. How can they do that?
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The One Kingdom tells the story of three young lads from the Vale of Lakes, Tam Loell and his cousin Fynnol, and Fynnol's cousin Baore Talon, who set off on the river Wynnd to sell artefacts found on an ancient battlefield in the town of Inniseth.

The first night they're met by Alaan, a stranger looking for old stories about given names in the Vale. When they're attacked by brigands, Alaan sacrifices himself to help the young men escape. The next morning, they meet a party of travelling Fáel. Among them Cynddl, a story finder, asks to join the boys on their trip downriver. A trip that will end up taking them much further south than they initially intended.

South, where Dease, Samul, Arden and Beldor Renné are plotting the political murder, at the annual Westbrook Fair, of their cousin Toren, current leader of the family. This way they want to prevent him from returning the Isle of Battle to the Wills, the Renné's age-old enemies. Indeed, they think this peace offer will make them vulnerable and bring the family to ruin, plus they hope to frame the Wills at the same time.

Also caught in the midst of this intrigue is 20-year-old Elise, daughter of the blind musician Lord Carral Wills and niece of the despicable Menwyn, who wants to marry her off to Prince Michael, son of Prince Neit of Innes, and use her to reawaken war against the Renné.

I found the beginning of the story rather slow, with the first four protagonists mainly rowing down the river, and sometimes reminiscent of the Fellowship of the Ring, with young cousins off on an adventure, meeting elf-like Fáel, being tracked down by scary men... I also thought the short glimpses at the numerous other characters' stories were kind of confusing. Thankfully, the plot really gets interesting when all pieces finally click together around 200 pages before the end, and the book suddenly becomes a page-turner.
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Three young travelers leave their village to see more of the world - that's when the trouble begins. Meeting a mysterious man, Alaan, who seems to know more about their family and ancestors than they do, they're suddenly attacked by nameless soldiers and forced to flee - leaving Alaan, presumed dead, behind them.

Barely escaping, Tam, Baore, and Fynnol stumble into a Fael camp. The Fael - a people of wandering minstrels and storytellers - remind me, for some reason, of Robert Jordan's Tuatha'an.

Meanwhile, a feud between two noble houses - the Renné and the Wills - threatens to open up again, and engulf the world in a bloody fire of vengeance and betrayal. But, both sides are being played against each other by the sinister Eremon - thought killed many years ago, under another name...

From a somewhat unoriginal and atypical fantasy start, the story soon started taking on its own flavour; quickly becoming apparent that Sean Russell was not simply dredging up old cliches, but doing something new and inventive ... as well as just being a plain great writer!

I thought the idea of a story-finder - able to pick up memories and events from the past - was a really original idea, and Cynddl was certainly an interesting character. It was a very clever way to have someone knowing about the past, but not be a Useless Guide type of character.

The background characters were fleshed out well, too; it can be all too easy to have main protagonists well developed, and the supporting cast, cardboard, cliché-cut-outs. The Renné and the Wills were very intriguing, and it'll be exciting to see in the next two books, whether Russell lets both Houses realise their similarities and same cause ... or will it turn to war when they should be fighting the common enemy, à la A Song of Ice and Fire. I suspect the latter, though I did grow attached to even the minor characters of both families: I felt for the scarred Llyn when she was shamed before everyone she knew, and I think that is one of Sean Russell's many talents: making you feel for the characters, no matter how important.

The One Kingdom has quite a traditional High Fantasy feel, but it's clear that Sean Russell has tried to bring something a bit different to the genre. The magic, while obviously an integral part of the story, is very low key - there are no blue bolts raining from the heavens and squashing enemies flat. Instead, we have various old myths from the book coming to life, ancient powers re-awakening, but in a way that is subtle, rather than melodramatic. No armies of 400 million Dark creatures marching on Everywhere, but men being used by other men. The all-powerful bad guy is one that would be familiar to us, too - Death - though, he does insist on taking a slightly more corporeal part in the story!

I'm really surprised I hadn't heard of this one sooner; it's one of those books you expect to see on every fantasy "Recommended Reading" list on the Internet, and it definitely deserves a place as one of the best openers to a fantasy trilogy in quite a while. I'm extremely glad I found it, and I can't wait to see how Russell continues this epic story. Unmissable! 9 out of 10, for sure.

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on 7 July 2014
I bought this series partly due to the recommendation of Stephen Donaldson, who apparently described it as "subtle, well-crafted and gripping". Well, 'subtle' - yes, 'Ill give him that; 'well-crafted' - certainly; but gripping - hmm... really?

There are aspects of this book that are really good - the quality of the writing, the unfolding history that underpins the story, the sense of various Celtic myths being interwoven and retold in a very different way. But whilst some of the characters are reasonably intriguing, some are, well, a bit flat - particularly, I have to say, the lead character, Tam. The biggest problem, though, was that long chunks of the story are positively tedious - essentially, they consist of: they travel a bit, then some baddies attack them, but against the odds our guys beat them or manage to escape, then they travel a bit more, then some more baddies attack them but, guess what, against the odds ...

I persevered with all three books, and was reasonably happy with how all the various characters' threads in the storyline were resolved at the end, but to be honest, it became a bit of a chore getting there. So, it was OK, but not something I will be going back to re-read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Ok sometimes a relaxed pace in a book is pleasant, here i found it a little off putting. The main characters are typical every man style heroes out of their depth. The main plot is simple enough and the magic seems suitably mysterious, however I found the world unconvincing and underdeveloped. That aside it is a nice start to an entertain saga. undemanding.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 24 November 2003
When it comes right down to it, life is a series of interlocking stories, one of your stories interacting with that of someone else, or maybe those of a few other people. Every one of them means something to you at the time, though if it's not a very interesting story, it may fade into the mists of time. If it's particularly interesting, and affects a lot of people, it may be recorded and become part of society's memory, which will allow it to live past the end of your life.
The One Kingdom, by Sean Russell, is a book that is about, ultimately, stories. Neil Gaiman writes about stories and how they affect us, but Russell is writing about how we write stories with our very actions. He wraps this in a story of his own, an epic yet strangely personal story about a group of young men from a remote village, out for a little adventure, who find a lot more than they bargain for. Also included is a story about a young girl who is a pawn in an evil scheme, and a mysterious man who is trying desperately to avert a war. Russell does a marvelous job of tying all these disparate stories together into a tight narrative, engaging the reader's interest as we wonder just how they are all going to come together.
Russell uses the ultimate story of two warring families to bring this unity. The Renné and the Wills have been divided for over a hundred years, with the land never having a true ruler. Instead, it's just been two factions in an unsteady peace that's been rife with conflict and tension. As the book begins, a murder is being plotted, as the cousins of Toren, head of the Renné family, try to avert what they feel is a fatal mistake. Toren is about to give back the legendary Isle of Battle to the Wills, who they took it from all those years ago. The cousins plan to kill Toren to prevent it. Meanwhile, plots abound on the Wills side, with the Prince of Innes allying himself with Sir Eremon, an evil knight with more to him than just an evil smirk. Eremon has a long hatred of the Renné and also lives for war, both of these coming together in the fact that his alliance with Innes will produce the armies he needs to make war on his bitter enemies. He also plans to bring the Wills over to his side by forcing Prince Michael, the son of the Prince of Innes, to marry Elise, daughter of the head of the Wills family.
Russell uses these stories to illustrate the fact that we all have stories to tell or to live, or maybe just to hear. He uses one more story to do this, by using the time-honored tradition of a group of people going out in search of adventure and finding that adventure isn't always something you want to go looking for. Sometimes, you stumble into stories that you had no intention of writing, much less starring in. Tam and his friends, Baore and Fynnol, meet up with a group of Faél (a band of gypsy-like people) who ask them to accompany a "Story-finder" named Cynddl down the river, to record its stories from generations long-past. Ultimately, they stumble into all the intrigue and become pieces in a game that goes back hundreds of years.
The river becomes the metaphor of choice for Russell, and he uses it well. The river represents all the stories that have happened along it, and the flow of the river represents the flowing of life as it goes by. Sometimes it's rough (as when Tam and the others have to survive some raging rapids), and sometimes it's the ultimate in calm. The small group journeys down the river as people come and go off of it, interacting with them along the way. Slowly, the story unfolds around them and they get swept up in events. The ending, set up by the mysterious man known as Alaan, is a blaze of action, mix-ups, misdirection, and interacting plots. Is Eremon one step ahead of our heroes? Perhaps that's how we get to the second book in the series.
While there are a couple of slow bits and seemingly pointless characters in the book, Russell does an effective job of keeping the pace moving and the characters at least mildly interesting. Some of the characters (such as the man with his deaf and mute children that the group of heroes meets on a deserted island on the river) don't seem to have much purpose, though they are clearly set up for the rest of the series. Russell succeeds in making us care about them at least a little bit, so we don't mind what seems like a pointless side-trip. At times, he goes a little too far with the story metaphor, making it seem obvious and trite (he does go on about the river just a little bit too much), but overall I found the whole book fascinating.
Elise, is a woman who has always been bored by life, but she gets caught up in these events and has to learn what it takes to not only write your own story, but to write the story you want to write. The reader really starts to care about this girl who started out seeming like a spoiled brat, even as Russell uses her to emphasize how we must wrest control of the stories we create, or the stories will write us instead.
Sean Russell is not a new face in fantasy fiction, but he's a new one for me. I really enjoyed The One Kingdom, and am already deep into the second book. If you want a grand, yet intimate, fantasy story with interesting characters and fascinating themes, this is a book you should pick up.
David Roy
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 2 April 2002
Fantasy in the last couple of years has become a little jaded, with very little written that comes as close to perfection as "The one Kingdon" (with the possible exception of a "Fools Errand" by Robin Hobb).
A fabulously deep story, with some very good charachter development, one is left gasping for more.
I wont give too much more away - If you like fantasy - buy this book. If you don't like fantasy - buy this book it will change your perception of fantasy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 March 2001
Very rarely does a book make me want to read the sequel imediately, Like other people have said it is slow at first but then suddenly it is 3am and the book is nearly finnished! All I can say is 'When is the next one out!!!!!!!'
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 February 2001
To be rated by Stephen Donaldson this book had to be good and I was not disapointed. The story flows as unexpectedly as the river Wynnd in the story itself. I could not put it down
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