Book Review: A Merchant in Oria

Title: A Merchant in Oria

Author: David Wiley

Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy (Novella)

Book Blurb per Goodreads: Firion is a young merchant descended from generations of merchants. His first big break comes along when he sets out to trade with the wealthy dwarven kingdom of Oria. He has always dreamed of visiting this grand kingdom, having heard his father describe it in detail a hundred times while he was younger. But when Firion arrives in Oria, he is jarred by the details present that contradict with the image etched into his mind. Something dark and sinister seems to be afoot in Oria, but Firion knows he is no hero. He is just a simple merchant, and what can an ordinary person do in the face of danger and deception?

Book Review: David Wiley is a good author friend, and when his novella was published, of course I wanted to read it. His style of fantasy tends to focus more on action than interpersonal interaction, but nevertheless, I’ve always enjoyed it, and his new novella continues in much the same vein.

So here’s a closer look at the Narration, Content, Characters, Artwork, World-Building, and my Overall Response.

Narration: 3 out of 5. The omniscient narration is very detail-oriented, so we know exactly what Firion sees and encounters. There is humor, sometimes at Firion’s expense, but there wasn’t a great deal of taste, touch, or smells recounted, which one might wish for in this sort of narration. The “what” and “how” is given center stage, so it seems logical that all the “what’s” should be included, even if they’re not seen.

Also, we don’t always know is what Firion feels or thinks–the maneuverings and schemes he contemplates and throws away before acting, for example. It may be that Firion just isn’t the thinking sort, but I felt like there would be more inner processing than we’re privy to. When his horses don’t make a grand entrance like he’d hoped, for example, what does he think about it? Does he feign indifference, as though he’s commanding them to amble? Does he worry that kicking them would be a worse presentation, leaving tell-tale marks that would speak poorly about him for far longer? These sorts of questions aren’t answered.

Content: 4 out of 5. This is primarily a story of adventure, of right struggling against wrong, and in that, it excels. As a novella, it can’t include everything, but it doesn’t rush. It moves from element to element in an orderly way and presents a complete story without leaving readers with a great many questions (save for some world-building questions, which will be discussed below).

The terms fit the medieval feel of the story, and the novella is clean, with violence being recounted without dwelling on it in a gruesome manner. Overall, one could wish it was a bit longer, giving us a greater understanding of the struggles Firion faces, but as a novella, it’s still effective.

Characters: 3 out of 5. Along with narration, this is one of the weaker spots in the story. Due to the heavy focus on actions and surroundings, I never felt like I really got to know and understand who Firion, Melody the dwarf, and the other characters were.

Still, I didn’t feel like they were two-dimensional or flat, just that I wasn’t given a good opportunity to really get to know them as deeply as I’d like. Most of the dialogue was used for conveying information about the world and backstory, and not necessarily in showing us what the characters were like. While the adventure might not leave us a lot of room for delving into the heart of people, it still felt like it could’ve found moments and ways of drawing them out all the same.

Artwork: Subjective. Not being a fan of “busy” images, I found this cover a little too involved. I liked the elements–the colors, the old city, the burning smoke, the merchant’s wagon climbing the hill–but I found it hard to know what to focus on, and it almost felt like it was trying too hard to be cool by having everything in the cover. The setting sun and a rising moon, an old, ruined tower and a pristine-looking lower city with sun glancing along the walls…it felt like it needed to decide what sort of story the cover wanted to convey and then convey it, without all the distractions.

World-Building: 4 out of 5. This is both the strongest and yet most challenging sections of the novella. Because it’s short, there’s a lot about the world that we don’t know, and while the author managed to convey a great deal and really give us a grounding of where we were, what sort of magic was around, and how the various races interacted, it felt like there were many unanswered questions and possible inconsistencies in how some of the characters interacted with each other. Still, as a novella, it did an amazing job in crafting a detailed world and my biggest complaint was in wanting to spend more time and get to know even more about this believable fantasy world.

Overall Response: 14 out of 20, or 3.5 overall. Though not as relational as I personally like, A Merchant in Oria is a great fantasy tale, full of adventure and believable characters and set in an intriguing world. It isn’t perfect or as fleshed-out-as-possible, but it’s still a strong debut novella and promises an excellent writing career from David Wiley (something I have no doubts on). 🙂

For more book reviews like this one, click here.

Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren

Cover image used by permission from the author

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