The Calvanni by Chris McMahon

SPFBO Status: Cut

Rate: 7/10 

Medium: Kindle

Overview (No Spoilers)

You know that saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, it bit me in the ass. I must confess that I picked this book out of our batch because of how much I disliked the cover (I still don’t like it). The cover gives off a certain vibe, if you catch my drift. My expectations for The Calvanni were low because of this, but lo and behold… I liked the book. 

The Calvanni is the first installment of The Jakirian Cycle, which is a trilogy. While I’m all for book series, the ending is too much of a cliffhanger. If you read The Calvanni and find yourself enjoying it, make sure you have Scytheman handy, because you’ll want to pick it up right away. I turned the (digital) page, expecting a new chapter, and was very sad to see that book 1 had ended. Alas, my SPFBO duties prevent me from starting Scytheman for the time being. 

This story takes place in the world of Yos, and let me tell you: Chris McMahon’s worldbuilding skills are fantastic. He describes the history of this world, its wars, religion, politics, geography, etc., and I really enjoyed getting to know more about it. Yos is a complex world, carefully crafted so that it doesn’t feel convoluted. Considering this, I expect the rest of the series to be as complex and well-orchestrated as it is in The Calvanni.

Yos’ unique laws of chemistry are somewhat puzzling and deserve their own paragraph. Our metals are replaced by “glowmetals”, which can’t be forged or manipulated because they are a combination of light/energy and matter, I guess? At this point, this chemist had to suspend disbelief and just go with the flow. Because of their nature, glowmetals can’t be made into weapons, armor, jewelry, etc.; artifacts are made of special ceramics instead. [As an aside, this makes me wonder what catalysis looks like in Yos, but that’s probably beyond the scope of this review.] While this doesn’t serve a particular purpose in the story, because the glowmetals could have been replaced by some odd instrument and the effect would be the same, it certainly sets Yos apart as a world that’s similar to ours, but not quite, and helps illustrate McMahon’s skills.

The book begins in Athria, a small island ruled by Sarlord Myan Cintros. Before dying, he reveals some information to his daughter Ellen, sending her on what seems like a wild goose chase of epic proportions. Don’t worry, things get more interesting as the story unfolds. Ellen’s storyline is one of three in The Calvanni: the other two are Raziin’s and Cedrin’s. These stories run parallel to each other for long stretches, but they are all, of course, connected, and they intersect more than once. The characters’ backstories are also rich and interwoven, and I look forward to learning more about them in the next books. 

The Calvanni is an action-packed read that gets the story rolling and leaves you wanting to know more. It is full of interesting characters, but in general, the “good” characters tend to be more believable than the “bad guys”, who are rather one-dimensional (more on this later). Despite my initial misgivings (which were, as I said, based on the cover), the book is well written and is not a romance novel that you’d read over the summer. Be aware, however, that it does reference nudity and some sex scenes, if this is something that bothers you.

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound)

  • To be completely honest, I fully expected a sex scene between Ellen and Cedrin since their first meeting. And I’m convinced they’ll produce beautiful, ridiculously powerful spawn at some point. When I’m done with the trilogy, I might report back on this.
  • Why do the men in this book have made-up/unconventional names (Raziin, Cedrin, Marken, Myan, Estle, etc.) while the women’s are fairly common (Ellen, Marina, Emily)? 
  • Raziin and Hukum seemed one-dimensional, which made them less interesting as villains. They are sometimes so mean it’s almost cartoonish (see, for example: “He hoped they would die painful deaths in the cold. They deserved nothing else for their weakness.”). 
  • There were moments when Raziin just felt annoying. Once he got to the Temple, his suffering and confusion made him look more human and complex. Even his struggles on the ship fell short of making him relatable. I hope this two-dimensional version of Raziin will still be around for the other two installments.
  • This might be relevant in the next books, but the fact that Raziin raped his sister (!!!) felt unnecessarily gory, and didn’t add anything to the story. By this point, it was clear that Raziin is a terrible person, and arguably unredeemable, even if he had never laid a finger on his sister. It does make me wonder, though: is his sister’s son his son, too? Oh, boy.
  • I could have lived without Raziin and Marina’s sex scene, thank you very much.
  • Ellen is a formidable character: she’s strong, educated, trained for battle, and beautiful. I wish I could have connected with her more. I hope she will claim her rightful place in Athria as the story continues.
  • The way Ellen is treated (compared to how Myan was treated in similar circumstances) reeks of patriarchy. This is marginally acknowledged at one point, but I wish it had been explored further. 
  • Shout out to the female characters in this book! Marina makes a small appearance that is enough to show she’s a force of nature and someone to watch out for. I look forward to seeing what her role is in the next books. 
  • I laughed at Ellen’s “Tattoos for decoration? The idea was absurd.” She would have some things to say about me.
  • A passage that deserves its own bullet point is: “…the well-honed muscles of his torso rippling like a flexing snake.” This is more what I expected from this book’s cover. Also, I’m really wondering what a “flexing snake” is, because my ball python never looks like anyone’s torso.
  • Cedrin and Marken were probably my favorite characters in the book, or at least the ones that felt more human. I’m very intrigued about Marken’s origin story (especially considering the revelation about his family’s crest towards the end). 
  • The scene where Marken “cures” Cedrin of the Fire curse is great for two reasons: first, it shows how loyal Marken is. Everyone else is afraid of Cedrin, Skye himself wants to turn him in to the Templemen, but Marken stands by him. And also, it’s hilarious that his way of fighting the curse is to sing a blessing for a newborn child. This scene shows many of Marken’s good qualities, and it made me like him even more.
  • I particularly appreciated the science-based description of the Eathals’ eyesight and their caverns. Sounds like science in Yos sometimes works like in our world. I’m intrigued and considering applying for a fellowship to spend some time in Yos studying comparative science. 

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