Sunday, 20 October 2013

ANNA REVIEWS: THE SUN SHARD , debut fantasy novel by Robert Bayliss

The Sun Shard is the first in an intended series which is set in another world, ruled over by the mighty
Empire. The people of the north chafe under the Empire's rule, and especially the ancient people known as Flint Folk have an axe to grind with the new overlords. As a consequence of the Empire's ever expanding borders, the Flint Folk has been forced to live up among the eternal snows, a dwindling remnant of a once powerful people. However, what starts off as the story of a potential insurrection versus the Empire, expands into a war between the Empire and its hereditary enemy, Accaross. In this struggle, even the reluctant vassals of the Empire are forced to take part – unless they want the world to be ruled by the evil dark god of Accaross. The struggle between the god of light, as represented by the crystal known as the Sun Shard, and the god of darkness, is a central theme in the story, bringing with it ample opportunity for alchemists and wizards to play a major role

This is a nice premise, and the story develops at a fast pace. It starts off with a shaman from the Flint Folk searching for the man he has been dreaming off, a young man to whom he must entrust the powerful Sun Shard. To do so, he must leave the icy wastelands and enter the Empire's dominions, well aware that should he be discovered, he will probably be hunted to death. But there is no choice, the Sun Shard must go to its next owner, and the Flint Father spends months looking for him.
Eventually, he finds him – among the men chasing him. Young Tuan is a reluctant conscript to the Empire's army, but to refuse to serve is to risk all sorts of punishments – especially for his family – which is why Tuan does as best as he can. Being an excellent scout, he is set to track the elusive Flint Father, accompanied by an armed trooper. There is a skirmish, the trooper dies, Tuan is certain he is about to die as well, but the Flint Father stays his hand at the last moment, recognising the face from his dreams.
More soldiers appear in the valley below them, and it is but a matter of time before they reach them. The Flint Father acts quickly. The Sun Shard is transferred, Tuan is given an extremely brief introduction into the power he now must learn to wield, and then the Flint Father dies - killed by Tuan's Commander, Kaziviere.  

While Tuan is set up to be the hero of the story – and in many ways he is – it is Commander Kaziviere that grows into the role of the true hero, a conscientious and loyal man that now and then transgresses into excessive cruelty, but on the whole attempts to be fair and just. It is interesting to note that while the initial chapters puts the reader into a "let's hate the Empire" mode, this sensation quickly evaporates as Mr Bayliss presents us with a number of likeable servants of the Empire – all of them men, all of them soldiers.  
The exception to these upright servants of the Empire is Dominar Sligo, the baddie of the story, who is the Empire's regent of the northlands but aspires to create his own kingdom – with the help of Accaross. Dominar Sligo is portrayed as a man with multiple vices: he drinks, he fornicates, he hates, he schemes, he tortures and ravishes – in brief, not the nicest of men, who well deserves whatever nasty things fate might have in store for him.  
In general, characterisation would have benefited from greater depth. We know very little about the characters except for what happens to them as the story unfolds. It would have been interesting to have a backstory for Commander Kaziviere, for General Bruant and definitely for Tuan, explaining why he is the chosen one. One major drawback for me is the lack of female characters. There is only one woman who has any kind of dialogue, otherwise they drift across the peripheral vision as unwilling concubines to Dominar Sligo. I hold out hope that this will change in the future books, what with the “Razoress” becoming one of the boys in the final chapters of the book.

The book blends a lot of military action with a healthy dose of magic. The Sun Shard is a power all unto itself, conferring on its bearer all sorts of talents, such as being able to bend other creatures' wills to his, or being able to absorb the knowledge in a room full of books in a micro second or so. When deployed, the Sun Shard emits a radiant bright light, forcing darkness and evil to scurry away and hide. However, magic skills are not restricted to the gods of light – the evil god of Accaross has a number of tricks up its sleeve, resulting in a rather elegant cliff-hanger of an ending.

In conclusion, we have an intriguing story, a cast of interesting characters and the potential for a great read. In its present form, the book could do with a  re-edit, so as to enhance the quality of the text.  I hope that Mr Bayliss chooses to do so, as The Sun Shard deserves a wide readership.
About the author: 
West Countryman Rob Bayliss lives with his wife,two children and dog in Somerset. He enjoys both rock and folk music, and has played bass in covers bands, as well as bashing out the odd reel on the mandolin. A keen scholar of history and a lifelong reader, only recently has he discovered the joyful escapism of sitting down to write a story.


  1. I don't often read fantasy novels but this one appeals. It sounds exciting and intriguing. I like the idea of the Northern settings and am shivering already. It also sounds as if this is a pace led action based novel that might appeal to older teenagers who enjoy fantasy.

  2. Absolutely, Carol, I think the book would hold major appeal to older male teenagers, a group for whom it can be very tough to find good books. Having said that, The Sun Shard is a story that should attract readers of all ages and genders - even if female readers may complain re the state of their nails afterwards (somewhat bitten).

  3. Rob has really done a great job producing his first novel and should be proud! Well done to Rob, its no easy feat to write a book and publish it and then have the courage to allow it to be reviewed on a forum like this! Onwards and upwards I say!