Book Review: Mother of Daemons
Okay. Let me preface this with bias acknowledgement. I normally don’t like reading adult fiction as I don’t like smut in books. Now I’m not strictly complaining about the smut in this book, as it’s pretty well established David Hair puts smut in both of his Urte series, the Moontide Quartet and the Sunsurge Quartet.
As a writer, I know we pour our heart and soul into these books. So I think I will use Mother of Daemons as a writing tip and see what lessons we can draw out of it.
Mother of Daemons is the fourth instalment of the Sunsurge Quartet, the sequel series to the excellent Moontide Quartet. In these series, West and East collide in Crusades and Shihads. It has one of my favourite non-BrandoSando magic systems I have seen in writing—the gnosis, with a vast set of powers, limits and lore. It was an excellent system, encompassing elemental magic, healing, necromancy and so much more.
I love hard and well defined magic systems, and the gnosis was one of these. As an overview, there are sixteen power groups of the gnosis. If you have affinities in one area, then you have a blind spot in another. It made magic battles very satisfying. The series built to culminate in the possibility of breaking affinities and using all sixteen facets of the gnosis. This was an excellent moment.
Okay. I waxed lyrical about the gnosis, so here’s my question. Why was it thrown away for the “dwyma,” a soft magic system? The dwyma is life magic, and it was interesting for one book. But then it became the most Deus Ex Machina thing I’ve seen, and it was just disappointing to see how much it seemed to replace the gnosis. It is a shame because we spent four excellent books with the gnosis, but then all of that history just seemed to fall away. I never fully understood what made a good dwyma, how they contacted each other, and how it counteracted the daemons.
As for characters, some worked great. Empress Lyra grew very well over the series. She was a genuinely likeable person, and I loved her belief in the republic. Even better was the old codger gang, comprising Prelate Wurther, Treasurer Dubrayle, and Spymaster Setallius. They need to see a chiropractor after carrying the complete series on their backs.
However, many other characters failed to deliver. Prince Waqar was at his best during Book 2, Prince of the Spear. He was great when he was fighting for the Shihad, yet his heart wasn’t in it, and he was watching his friends fall around him. The camaraderie he had with his friends, and then the tragedy as they died one-by-one brought out the horror of war. Then he became a dwyma and felt so—flat. I couldn’t get any emotion out of him, and it left me confused.
This was the same with his sister Jehana. She had the potential to be an interesting character, but was rude and irritating for two books, useful in book three, and then the ‘prize’ of the fourth book. It turned out she’s useful because she’s a dwyma who failed to become a dwyma. This falls into a Chosen One trope. It was a nice flip, as she is prophesied to end the world, rather than save it. That didn’t outweigh her lack of character which destroyed its strength.
What saddens me is the best characters were not the ones introduced in the Sunsurge Quartet, but the ones introduced in the Moontide Quartet. When I realised that Seth Korion appeared in Prince of the Spear, I cheered. And when Ramon Sensini showed up, and pulled surprise after surprise to save everyone’s butts, I was cackling like a madman. It was an extension of the dynamic they had in the first series, and they just came off as more developed.
This brings me to the last chapters of the book. What happened there? Honestly, I really liked Valdyr and Lyra growing closer. They had good chemistry, in a vulnerable way. They’ve had a good bond communicating through the dwyma, and as both victims of abuse, they seemed like they’d be an empathetic and gentle couple.
But the climax ended up being weird hentai stuff, and I did not vibe with that. Jehana was the entire subject of the fourth book. And she went through a lot of terrible abuse, but—did we have to read about how she is invaded with tentacles and then gives birth to demons? Like what? It’s just a mess, compared to how good the Moontide Quartet was.
There was a saving grace, when the Western soldiers and the Eastern soldiers made peace, overcoming a lot of racist stereotypes on both sides—a poignant issue in today’s climate. I would have loved to see more, but it was unfortunately skimmed over.
I think Mother of Daemons, aside from the strange tentacles, could make a good book and series if it wasn’t coming off the high of Moontide Quartet. For example, when Ramon Sensini revealed himself as an Ascendant mage, the most powerful rank in the world, it gave me chills. In over 1200 pages of Sunsurge, the dwyma gave me chills once. And that was when Lyra dropped a blizzard on an invading army in Book Three. Awesome moment, but then she spent the entirety of Mother of Daemons refusing to do it.
So what can we get out of this vent? Well, I think the most important tidbit I’ve gleaned from this is the importance of following through on expectations, and saving your big reveals for the big punch. The best reveals were both in Book Three, like when Lyra dropped the blizzard. That created an expectation that she could do it again, but when she didn’t, it was a letdown.
Obviously, this is all my opinion. If you agree or disagree with me, I’d love to hear about it! Click below to subscribe to stay up to date on all my content. I post writing tips and reviews every Monday. If you want to chat writing or anything at all, you can tweet me at @sr_thiele.
Have a great week!