Book Review: Birthrights by J. Kyle McNeal

“But as ages slipped like grains through a sieve, the borders failed. Dragons, the fearsome spawn of the Maker, Steppe, were the first of the other races to reach the Land of Anon. Thus, like ants drawn to ripened fruit, Man, the race created by Jah, arrived. Men stumbled, parched and pitiful, from the desert sands and washed ashore like drift from the ocean.”

Epic Fantasy should stay with you, just as the feculent odors of the town of Dung cleave to its residents in J. Kyle McNeal’s debut Birthrights. But in Book One of The Revisions to the Truth series, the fantasy dissipates a little too quickly.

From the opening scene on a bloody battlefield, where decisions are made that will affect generations to come, I hoped to be pulled in deeply. The storyline, which revolves around two young men “entangled in a world of treachery” who must question all they know to be true and forge a path into the unknown, is well thought out but lacks the dramatic and emotional intensity necessary for the subject matter.

Instead, the novel reads like a young adult novel, with more focus on the two main characters’ identity issues (how they fit in, how they can prove themselves, whether they will get the girl), than the immediate crises at hand. And while that may be understandable taking into account the young lead characters, other older characters are treated similarly. For example, when the most powerful figure in this world, the First Lord of the Council of Truth, visits the Cache, a top level brothel, he is practically giddy with anticipation.
McNeal writes “When the knock finally arrived, Artifis tensed, his fingernails scraping rhythmically against the ridged bed cover. The first moment of introduction was his favorite of the experience. “Come in.” His voice cracked like a teenager’s.”

Other love scenes were equally awkward.

What I desperately craved reading this novel was grit. I wanted to be lost completely in this world and feel for these characters, but their lack of complexity and individual voice prevented a stronger connection. What kept me reading were the eloquently written and beautifully detailed background history and lore at the start of each chapter. Here was evidence of McNeal’s skill as a world-builder. My hope is that as these characters mature in the following books in this series, McNeal becomes more consistent. Bring the tension and the grit.