Book review-Jean Johnson’s “The Guild”

6 May

I know Jean Johnson as a longtime reader of the comic. For the last few years, I’d see her name in my inbox, or in comments. There was some back-and-forth, and she seemed like a witty, nifty person.

THE GUILD, by Jean Johnson. Berkley Trade, May 2014

THE GUILD, by Jean Johnson. Berkley Trade, May 2014

Turns out she’s also a best-selling author (shoulda guessed from the quality of the emails, honestly…). She was kind enough to send me an advance review copy of her most recent book in her Guardians of Destiny series. So before I tucked into The Guild, I needed to go back and read the first two in the series to get an idea for the worldbuilding.

And holy schnitzels, this woman has something wrong with her. I mean that in the absolute best of ways, of course, but anyone who can envision a world like this one has got to be searching for places to store acorns before the winter snow sets in. Thus begins the review:

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THE GUILD by Jean Johnson (Guardians of Destiny, Book 3)

As a series, Guardians of Destiny is fascinating. The worldbuilding alone is terrifyingly complex. Here is a world in which magic defines both religion and secular pursuits: not because magic is an easy or convenient solution to problems, but because there’s too much of it… and if it’s not used, it will become the end of things. Unfortunately, both the gods and humanity are involved. Religions have sprung up around these gods, and human beings are driven by their basic natures. The end result is a countless number of civilizations, each of which is centered around a specific deity and has cultivated traits and practices unique to its own population, its members convinced they have the right of it.

I’m so glad I don’t live in this world. I’m thrilled I get to visit it!

The Guild is the third book in this series. Like The Tower and The Grove before it, the events in The Guild are about people. Unique people, to be sure–Rexie is a powerful mage, choosing a life of hiding in plain sight over one in which she’d be exploited for her powers, while Alonnen is the only principled priest within a decaying religious order–but they are still just people. Most novels in which prophesies draw characters together focus on those characters within the context of that prophesy. Johnson, on the other hand, puts the characters first. While aware of a prophesy, Rexie and Alonnen are driven by their own personal wants and needs. Alonnen’s unbending moral compass and Rexie’s transformation from persecuted minority to a fully-realized mage are more significant to them than the fate of the world. Their romance, while slow to start, comes together as a natural progression of their own independent personalities, and is far more enriching (and entertaining! hello smolder!) than if they ended up together as a direct result of Fate.

As if this wasn’t enough, the series itself is a puzzle that’s gradually resolving itself with each new piece. Johnson knows exactly where “Guardians of Destiny” is headed as a series. While each novel serves as stand-alone insight into a single civilization within this complicated world, it’s evident that the series takes place within the context of that aforementioned prophesy. I’m looking forward to reading each book as it comes out, then rereading the series to discover how Johnson’s elegant plotting transforms each individual book into part of a whole.

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Formal review done. Honestly, I usually don’t read this type of book myself–I’m conspiracy theories and explosions all the way down–but this world Johnson is building is captivating. The Tower is pretty much what would happen if The Ghostbusters’ containment unit was used for LARPing, and The Grove is politics, politics, politics, and mutated carnivorous plants. Plus sex scenes throughout.

The Guild was released today and the series as a whole is worth reading, especially if you’re into complex worldbuilding. You can also find Jean Johnson at her website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

 

p.s.: Just because I know I’m going to get a few requests: Yes, I will review your book if you are a longtime reader of the comic. Yes, I will be honest about it (this means you should really, really think twice before sending a copy to me because “honest” does not mean “nice”, and keep in mind that Speedy’s character comes from somewhere). No, I will not do publicity blurbs (I’m just starting out, and my name isn’t going to sell any books for you).

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