Cornerstone: The King by Michael Paul

Cornerstone: The King has all the elements of a fantasy epic: it has family dramas and secrets; it has power plays between the most dominant; it has a quest; it has characters who would probably not come together in other circumstances, uniting to challenge a foe; it has a main character discovering who he is, who he can be and where he’s come from; it has a stone of power; it has songs!

Michael Paul is a competent writer and this book is well written in terms of its fluidity of prose and description. This is also true of the direction the book takes as we follow Miah, the carpenter’s son as he grows from a lively boy into an insecure man, lost in love and trying to find purpose within his life.

I had a good sense of the world that Paul has formed, a sort of medieval crusade era parallel, and the politics of Royalty versus Church, a struggle that constantly marred the history of many countries in our world and is often used in fantasy fiction.

Like I’ve mentioned, all of the elements are there. But for me, it just all fell a bit flat. There are a lot of characters but a manageable amount so it is not confusing and a full list of who is who is provided at the back of the book for clarification. Paul includes a lot of dialogue, which usually provides a lot of what is needed to create rounded, clearly delineated characters but I didn’t always get this from their exchanges; sometimes, I felt unfulfilled and sometimes, I felt confused.

The narrative has clear direction and purpose and this is one of its strengths. Within this structure, whilst his descriptions of place and his links between the action are well written by Paul, I found that they were limited in creating atmosphere and tension. I knew that the threats were there but I just didn’t feel them.

For me as a reader, character and the relationships between them are key to a great read and I struggled to identify fully with them, with the possible exception of Asser and his quirky way of talking.

Personally, I think that the book has merit and that there are fans of this sort of genre who will read it and be satisfied by it but sadly, not me.

This review was first published on Reedsy Discovery where I was privileged to read it as an ARC.

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