I actually finished reading Mike Stackpole’s The Secret Atlas quite a while ago, but I’ve been holding off on writing this review. Why? Because I like Mike Stackpole and I really wanted to like The Secret Atlas and, well, I didn’t.
We have here an interesting world that has been torn asunder by a cataclysm and is slowly rebuilding itself. There are political shenanigans going on as a few Machiavellian princes vie for power. There’s a subtle (at least at first) kind of magic that seems to arise from someone getting really good at something. There’s a whole passel of characters running hither and yon. In short, there’s a lot of good stuff in here.
But sadly, the execution fails. There are too many story threads going on here (four main ones) and the chapters rotate through them. So chapter x is about plotline A chapter x+1 is about plotline B, x+2 is about plotline C, x+3 about D, and then chapter x+4 is about plotline A again. And maybe I’m just getting old and senile, but by the time I come back around I’ve forgotten what’s going on and why I should care.
You see, the plotlines are so cleanly divided that it almost feels like I’m reading 4 books at once, reading a chapter of each before returning to the top of my stack.
Also, this is very much a volume 1. DO NOT read The Secret Atlas until the next volume is on store shelves, because there is very little closure at the end of this book. I think that the series can come together and be really fun, once you have them all in hand (and assuming you read your books in big chunks…these days I’m happy if I can squeeze in a chapter a night, which really made the rotating plotlines a big problem for me). But Atlas starts with a traveller entering a town, and half-way through the book, about 7 or 8 days have passed and we’re still in this town, talking a lot about the Big Adventures to come, but not actually going anywhere. We get a LOT of base material, though..we learn a lot about the world Stackpole has built, and it seems very rich indeed.
So although I didn’t like The Secret Atlas as a stand-alone volume, I still have hopes for the series as a whole, and I will read the next book when it hits store shelves.