Epic Fail: The Rise of the Alliance series by Sherwood Smith

Posted 3rd November 2022 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Reviews / 0 Comments

This actually started out as a Sunday Soupçons post, ie a mini-review, but then it turned into a full-on rant, so, you’re welcome???

Rise of the Alliance series by Sherwood Smith
Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Representation: Brown MCs

Untested young rulers must cooperate to protect their world from the magical threat of the mysterious kingdom of Norsunder in a new epic fantasy trilogy set in the same world as the popular Inda series.

The first installment of a trilogy, A Sword Named Truth launches readers into a story of non-stop action, politics, and magical threats leading to Norsunder's return. Our heroes span continents and cultures, ambitions and desires, but share one characteristic: they are young leaders. Many are rulers of unstable nations, growing into their power and their identities, but they seek ways to trust and bind themselves together--and find the strength to defend against a host that has crushed entire worlds: Norsunder.

With incredible powers only hinted at and enigmatic characters who appear in strange circumstances, the magical empire of Norsunder has loomed as the ultimate villain in Sartorias-deles, portending a battle to come, with the very highest of stakes.

Set in the complex world of Sartorias-deles, Sherwood Smith returns readers to the enthralling saga begun with the military action of the Inda series and continuing in the magic-based cultural drama of Banner of the Damned, bringing together deadly high politics, engaging worldbuilding, and nuanced examinations of power, love, and betrayal.

Well. That was a colossal waste of time.

A little context: this is the Rise of the Alliance series, which is set in Smith’s Sartorias-deles universe. Sartorias-deles is, no question, an incredible work of art; Smith has been working on the overall story for decades, and the worldbuilding is superb. Although several of her books have slightly rough/dull openings, up until now I’ve loved all of the ones I’ve read, especially the Inda series and the standalone Banner of the Damned.

But Smith is finally gearing up to the endgame – the Norsunder War cycle – and the Rise of the Alliance series immediately precedes it. So I knew I had to read these.

Honestly, I’m wishing I’d skipped them.

The biggest issue is that, with the exception of The Blood Mage Texts, these are incredibly long books – The Hunters and the Hunted and Nightside of the Sun were both 800+ pages on my ereader – in which almost nothing fucking happens. I’m not sure I’ve ever read books this slow, that take up so much space to say so little. The first 300 pages of Nightside – the final book! the big climax! – could have been cut and no one would have noticed. And when things do happen, they happen suddenly and very briefly – one event in Nightside that is literally world-changing, that is the result of 5000 years of build-up, is described in a single page, as opposed to those 300 pages I just mentioned in which a kidnap victim has to do laps every day for apparently no reason and with no effect on the character or the overall plot.

I wanted to scream.

(I did, in fact, stomp around the kitchen ranting at 1am, which my husband found utterly hilarious, thankfully.)

There’s not even much character growth! Although the events of the series take place over about (I think) six years, almost everyone is pretty much the same as they were at the start of book one. And you would think that a gazillion pages leaves plenty of room for showing instead of telling, but friends, I lost count of the times I was just told things instead of shown them, how often things were summarised instead of explored. And how many times those same facts were repeated, just in case I’d forgotten them in the last few chapters or so.


There is a very big deal indeed with some of the series’ major villains, but we did not need four books of this length to cover what happened there.

Also, I am Tired of incestuous villains who rape prepubescent boys – or anyone, really, but especially this model of rapey villain. I was honestly surprised and upset, because up until now Sartorias-deles has been very awesomely queernorm and Smith has been excellent about representing a variety of sexualities and gender identities, but in this series this particular villain is our main example of queer rep. There are tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them glimpses of other queer people existing, but mostly we’re stuck with this Evil Bisexual Pedophile, and how about no???

And I specifically do not need incest to flag someone out as Evil. It’s such a shock-value thing. They’re adults and consenting??? Then I genuinely do not give a fuck what they do in their bedroom. I’m more concerned with the whole torturing, murdering, out-to-subjugate-multiple-worlds thing!

Speaking of lazy ways to highlight someone’s villainy: I do not need, or want, you to use rape to make sure I know This Character is a villain. THEY’RE ALREADY OUT TO DESTROY THE FUCKING WORLD, OR WHATEVER. I ALREADY KNOW THEY’RE A BAD GUY. Making them a lip-licking rapist on top of that just makes it a shock-value thing, which I don’t think is ever the right way to write about rape. And honestly, this is an extra-weird thing to do in this specific literary universe because sexual violence really does not exist in Sartorias-deles, due to it having been bred out of humanity and enforced by Very Scary Magic. This particular villain comes from another world or whatever, but my point is, I’ve been very happy to have an epic fantasy series with no sexual violence up until this point, and I have no idea why it suddenly needed to be included.

On a completely different note: I do not know why Smith’s publisher decided to only publish Sword Named Truth, but while I am glad that Smith retained/regained the rights to the rest of the series and self-published them…fucking hell, these books needed an editor. Not just because they’re bloated and over-long, but because they are riddled with typos. Misplaced commas and quotation marks, yes, those annoy me, but especially in the last book there were so many sentences that cut off, or made no sense, or contradicted themselves, or were clearly missing important words.

Senrid entered with his customary quick he the Marloven boy and Tsauderei’s current challenge, MV, had never met.


(Senrid + Tsauderei + MV are all character names. Marloven is a nationality.)

She was always sorry to part from Rel, but she did their best to bribe palace servants to spy on her;

I mean, for crying out loud, at one point the character Sveneric is misspelled as Sven Eric. What. A character name.

This is less a writerly critique and more a personal thing, but: I was creeped out by kids having kids. In Sartorias-deles, there is this thing called the Child Spell, which allows you to freeze your body before going through puberty; you still age, kind of, but you don’t develop physically. It’s never explicitly stated that it also keeps you from developing psychologically – the existence of one or two characters seems to imply it does not – but most of the characters under the Child Spell read as young kids, regardless of their by-the-calendar age.

There is also this thing called the Birth Spell, which is very cool and basically means you make a baby by magic. It allows single people, sex-repulsed people, and people in same-sex relationships to have children that are biologically theirs. I love it!

I did not love kids still under the Child Spell using the Birth Spell. I find that massively ick and creepy, and again, I don’t know what the point of it was, why it was necessary to the story. It’s even creepier given that it is canon that the Birth Spell is a big deal that only comes to/works for a person some of the time – there’s always been a bit of a suggestion that it only comes to people who Should Be and are Ready To Be Parents. So…all these people who are psychologically children…the world-magic agrees they should be raising babies of their own???


So yeah, in case it wasn’t clear: I am not a fan!

I will read at least the first book of the Norsunder Cycle, because that series is the culmination of decades of work and build-up and I really want to know how it all goes down. But depending on how that goes, I may be taking Smith off my auto-buy authors list.

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