The Secret King--Lethao

Book Review: The Secret King–Lethao, by Dawn Chapman

The Secret King: LethaoThe Secret King: Lethao by Dawn Chapman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book bears a heavy responsibility. It is part of a larger team enterprise called The Secret King, which has a website, several book titles, a dictionary, audiobooks, 3D artwork, and a created language associated with it. This book, Lethao (named for the home planet), is where it all starts in more ways than one: it introduces the important characters, their conflicts, and their quest.

Fans of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica will probably enjoy this world, which hints at being as complex and multifaceted as anything in those imagined universes. As it stands, however, the ebook is not as well realized as the SF universes that are currently out there for popular consumption.

I received the ebook in exchange for an honest review. As a fan of popular SF and space opera, I was eager to dive in. There were several factors that made the book slow going for me: the unfamiliar language, the plethora of characters, and the lack of certain important concrete details about the plot, characters, and themes.

I was happy enough to start off with Kendro, the king who saves his people by evacuating them from their exploding planet. I found the descriptions of birthmarks and how “croex” works to be just sufficient to keep me going, but ideally I would have liked more on these topics. The pictures on the TSK website help a great deal in visualizing what birthmarks look like. I think I had less trouble in general with Star Trek novelizations because I had seen the TV shows first, and already had a good mental picture of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, etc. before I read about them. Not so with Kendro, Mika, Octav, Sheve, Frie, Katya, Chace, et al.

I also found it confusing for the same reason that others have pointed out: sometimes characters were referred to by their first names and sometimes their last, often for no apparent reason. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that Sheve and Hadi were the same person, for example. And I spent a good 10 minutes searching for a definition of “Ainoren” until I found the glossary at the back. Even then, I found the definition “Admiral/General” to be rather unsatisfying. Admirals and Generals are different offices in our military. And sometimes the Ainoren title is used with such reverence that one wonders if it has a religious or additional cultural significance in Aonise society. What did Octav do to earn this title, or is it appointed, inherited, or otherwise bestowed? And why is there only one Ainoren on the entire planet anyway?

There are a number of fascinating and even poignant subplots going on, but I had a hard time figuring out who and what I should care about as I jumped between them. I’m still not even sure who “The Secret King” actually is. I’m assuming it is Taliri, and the fast-maturing child is a trope I’ve seen before in SF, but it’s unclear what it signifies here. The Zefron’s motivations are similarly confusing. If they are after something in the blood of the Aonise, as mentioned, why are they attacking and trying to annihilate the entire Aonise space fleet, rather than infiltrating it and capturing Aonise people alive to be used as donors?

As a reader I’m also hungry for more Aonise culture and history. It’s not clear to me why the forbidden love affair has to be so forbidden. Is it because the love is between two men? Is it because one of them has a much higher position than the other within the hierarchy? Is it because one of them is already mated to a woman? Does it have to do with house loyalties? All of the above? Some more historical and cultural details about Aonise marriage and mating customs, gender and house roles, and attitudes towards same-sex relationships would really help to flesh this out and make the reader feel a greater sense of urgency about what the lovers have to lose, and to gain.

The strongest aspects of this world, in my opinion, are the birthmarks and the croex (energy/force) that they enable in their bearers. This is a self-consistent system of “magic” that has a great deal of potential for exploring plots and themes. How a society with these powers will interact with humans on Earth will be very interesting, but that is not the subject of this book, which ends just as they arrive at Earth’s solar system. I would recommend not reading this book in isolation, but rather checking out the website and other supporting materials. There is a lot of potential here and the TSK team needs more time to bring it to life.

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