The Seedbearing Prince
by Davaun Sanders
Disclosure, I know Mr. Sanders from work. We were members of the same training class and I learned he was a writer while talking to him over a variety of subjects. Finding out that he had written pretty near to an entire series, I had to take a look. Especially when he told me this whole series sprang from the most vivid dream he ever had.
The Seedbearing Prince is Mr. Sanders first book and the first book in a series. Let me first discuss the setting because it is amazing! It is new! It is interesting! I find myself yelling at the book “wait, wait go back and tell me more about shit!” It's not medieval Europe with a new coat of paint! The setting is the World Belt, a star system where the planets and dwarf planets (or whatever we're call them these days) are linked together by what seems to be a super dense asteroid field. I mean so dense that some of these asteroids have atmosphere and life on them, to point that creatures know as Rage Hawks fly from asteroid to asteroid in search of food and nesting grounds. As you might guess standard science has been beaten up and thrown out of town more or less. I mean we have an asteroid belt with a functioning ecosystem.
Now they have space ships called transports to carry people and cargo from world to world but sometimes they need to send messages quietly and quickly. This gives us one of the most metal occupations to show up in these reviews, men who make their living by letting themselves be shot off at high speed (using high tech artifacts called portals or jump points) into an asteroid field where they use grapple hooks and wing suits to basically spiderman across a moving asteroid field! Let me state that at this point I don't care what science has to say about how possible this is, it's just awesome. The worlds are all independent with their own cultures and governments, all these governments are bound by a set of treaties overseen by an interplanetary organization named after their headquarters, the massive space fortress called the The Ring. The Ring hosts a number of groups working together to keep the World belt safe and going. The Preceptors are scholars/scientists, the Defenders are the military order so on and so forth. There is an entire system here with Shard, our main character's home world being part of it. Shard is a farming world, who provides many world with large percentage of their food (the World Belt doesn't appear to be a purely capitalist system, the Shardians don't seem to be making a lot of money on this for example) they're a very rural people as a result but honestly seem like nice people. There are also some nice cultural bits (such as a festival) while we're on Shard for people like me.
Just from my first read through, I would say that that Mr. Sanders has done some work in thinking through this setting, or at least more then some people I've reviewed here. At the same time, he avoids a cardinal sin of fantasy and science fiction writers everywhere, he doesn't explain things to death. He has a story to tell and you'll get what information is reverent to the story. Which frankly is likely the best way to do these things, as a lot of people get bored silly when someone explains how things work. I know for example in say David Weber's books, especially the later ones, I tend to skip the pages and pages of explaining how missiles and anti-missile systems work But this isn't a Weber review so I'll stop here. I will say that instead of over dwelling on things however, Sanders rushes us past some parts of the setting. This is a shame. For example the world of Aran is a hot, dry world but manages to avoid being 'Arabs in space' the story gives us glimpses of an interesting culture but we're kinda hurried along. I can understand not wanting the plot to drag down but there is such as a thing as rushing as well. I don't think this will annoy to many other readers though, as most people I run into aren't as enthralled with cultural details, but I honestly want to know more about dry Aran, freezing Suralose (a planet the characters barely spend a day on!), the city world of Montollos and the fortress ship/station of The Ring. How are they governed? How does trade work? How are families organized? What are the differences world to world? How do they say farewell to their dead and welcome new births? None of these are part of the story and I'm just going to have to hope he writes some appendixes or something.
The characters are well written and fairly enjoyable. When I first started reading, my thought was that Dayn (our hero) would be another Luke Skywalker, a farm boy wishing for more but not really doing anything about that wish until events take the choice from him. I've found these characters can get annoying if badly written, I've often wanted to smack a couple of them for one thing or another. Dayn avoids this by being proactive. He pursues his dream of being a courser, one of the crazed men and women who grapple and glide across a freaking asteroid belt! He's gathered the gear, he practices in secret, he has a plan to head out and declare for it and he sticks to that goal. Despite, everyone and everything getting in his way. In fact Dayn here is actively driving the plot having found the magic macguffin (called a seed) in the course of his training, which he does by going to the one place everyone else tells him to avoid. Dayn is not a prophesied figure here, nor is he from a blessed bloodline or some such rot. He's a young man whose drive and attempts to realize his dream have pulled him into a much wider world then he was previously aware of and into events that he had considered much to large to ever concern him.
I even like Dayn's family, usually the families in these stories are dysfunctional in some manner or the Father is the kind of person who can't stand the idea of his children having dreams and desires that he wouldn't have. While there are family conflicts and Dayn does catch familial disapproval when he does something reckless and foolish (and being a teenager he does) but it's never over board and Sanders does manage to give you a sense that this is a caring family where the members actually love each other even when they're being complete idiots. So I do feel I need to stick in some kudos here for Dayn having a reasonable and pretty good father in his life who isn't absent, drunk, abusive, neglectful or Darth Vader. It's something I would like to see more of.
We have Lurec the Preceptor, who bluntly is a nerd but not an annoying one. Lurec doesn't let himself be pushed around and is willing to stand up for himself and Dayn despite not being very physically capable. That's okay though, Preceptors are suppose to be scholars and thinkers not soldiers. That's what Nassir is for, a grim, closed mouth Defender, who frankly is rather cranky and sometimes gets up my nose. He reminds me of a couple of Sargent I didn't care for while I was in the Marines. Nassir is a Defender, a kind of super soldier trained (created?) from volunteers in The Ring. They exist to fight the antagonists of this series (we'll get to them). Nassir seems to regard his post as Dayn's bodyguard more or less as a punishment, despite being told how important this job is and why. The Defenders in general are portrayed interestingly, we're shown them repeatedly refusing to raise their hands against the people of the Belt, but at the same time they come off as distant, cold, disdainful and in some cases paranoid to the point of violence. We're also shown Defenders who are friendly, social and tolerant as well (such as a minor character named Eriya that I liked). The people of the Belt have mixed feeling towards their Defenders and I can see why, but they're going to need them.
Because of the antagonists. The World Belt was once a much nicer place, but something happened and now it isn't. One faction named the Voidwalkers withdrew beyond the World Belt to plot and basically be bad people. The Voidwalkers that appear in this story hit me as kind of cross between Ring wraiths from Tolkien and a Games workshop Chaos Space Marine. They're dark, mysterious and often wrapped in shadow. They can have horrifying effects on the mind of men and women, making their very presence a weapon. They can hide in plain sight and have many agents lurking in the cracks and corners of the societies of the World Belt all working to bring about the down fall of the system and it's worlds. They ride great and terrible monsters that most men cannot stand against. They come clad in armor and through forgotten sciences have access to technology and powers beyond the understanding of their opponents and are as a result of that disdain of their enemies because of that. In fact we often hear them referring to the people of the World Belt as Degenerates. Despite all this they are mortal and Sanders manages to make characters out of them. While they have limited time in the limelight, they are shown to be human beings who can think, plan, feel and unfortunately for Dayn love and hate. This keeps them from being to cliche, I think. The Voidwalkers work to their own ends and manage to be threatening without being invincible, doing enough damage to retain credible threat status. We see them slap around Defenders and drive entire companies of men into screaming madness for example. However, they do get hurt and even killed, letting us know that whatever else they are, they're at the bottom of it all mortal men. Which makes them more interesting then formless spirits of malice that others
Over all I really enjoyed the book with only a couple minor issues. I felt that we didn't really get to know anyone expect our main three and even then we didn't really get to spend to much time with Nassir or Lurec. We meet a lot of people who come in and out (and in some cases come back) and we honestly don't get to spend a lot of time with them. Which is unfortunate. We also run through a lot of the setting, Aran stuck with me, as did Shard but much of the rest of the setting is taken at a run. If I have a complaint I would say Sanders should slow down a little. Not by a lot, the story is well told and I enjoyed it a lot.
The Seedbearing Prince is a good science fantasy story in an interesting setting with likable characters in a story that's interesting and managed to avoid cliches I thought were going to be part of the story. I enjoyed reading it until the final page. However the pacing needs a bit of work and we could use more character development for people whose names aren't Dayn. I also have a bug up my nose about the ending but I'm sure the next book in the series will fix that (there are 3 books published already). Because of this The Seedbearing Prince gets a B+ and I'm pretty hopeful that the next book will get into the A range.