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I am a reader who generally does not enjoy fiction. I would usually rather read one of my engineering textbooks than a 200 page novel, and when I do read fiction it takes me weeks to to get through a book. I picked up Astreya on a Sunday night and finished the last page in the wee hours of Thursday morning, having been unable to stop after Astreya meets Gar and Lindey. I loved it as a sailor, I loved it as fan of the fine arts and I loved it as a traveller. Seymour Hamilton managed to create engaging characters that you feel like you know by the end; without ever dwindling in awkward descriptions which is where most fiction loses me. I can't wait to read the sequel!!
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I have known Seymour Hamilton for over thirty years, and am only surprised that it took this long for Astreya to reach the marketplace. I guess he's been busy with other things. It is a work of great power, insight, and ferocious imagination, and like its creator it is almost impossible to dislike. I had the honour and pleasure of reading it in manuscript, and am overjoyed that it has finally taken up residence in my Kindle. I recommend it unreservedly. Mr. Hamilton understands people, and has an intuitive grasp of story I envy.
This is not one of my usual genres, but the seafaring stuff in the early chapters sucked me in and I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the alternate landscape and history Hamilton has created. In this first volume, he has wisely introduced only one "magical" element, a bracelet with strange properties (and perhaps powers), and for the most part the landscape and seascape are comfortably medieval. The plot moves along nicely, and the prose is well crafted. The most important test is that I finished with a great hunger for the next volume.
Rarely have I read something that combines a love of sailing and the sea with such a great story. The instant I finished Book 1 I had to have a copy of Book 2 and after that, Book three. Even if I didn't share the author's interest in the sea, I would have been enthralled by the story. The books are beautifully written, exciting and fun. I'm desperately hoping for a Book 4.
I'm a reader and go through two or three books a week and when I find something like this, it's like striking gold.
I must provide a mixed review for Astreya:1. I do love the authentic knowledge of the sea Mr Hamilton displays. I also give him high marks for the time and energy he invests in painting the scenes and depicting the characters. The protagonist, the girl, and the supporting players are credible, empathetic when appropriate, and tangible. There are aspects to the novel which are fresh, but, detracting over all are the stock-nature of the tale. Outcast boy loosed on the world with super powers he is unaware of, beautiful strong princes figure becomes his romantic partner, and evil pirates, those sort of off-the-shelf plot fixtures are lifeless. The major detractors are unresolved plot glitches which heavily weigh on the credibility of the action. Avoiding spoilers, here are three. 1) Why did they shoot arrows at the boat? It made no sense but did account for the boat leaving. 2) Why stay on the scaffold during the fight, waiting for the flames? 3) Why did the slow-motion defense not kick-in when kidnapped? Good tale of the sea, nice characters, but a stock and flawed plot make this 3.5/5 in my book.
I loved spending time in the world of Astreya. Before this, I hadn't read a fantasy novel in years, and I was surprised at the level of realism and the way Seymour Hamilton trusts his characters to carry the story without a lot of magic swords and mythological bombast. There is an air of mystery in the background - is this the past or some post-apocalyptic future? And what's the meaning of the coded messages Astreya's been left by his father? But these questions remain intriguingly in the background and don't overwhelm the story. Instead we see our hero grow up, deal with bullies, fall in love and decide he'd like to be an artist, as well as the other adventures and action you'd expect from good fantasy. I look forward to the rest of the series.