I get what Benjamin Reed was going for with Courvalian: The Resistance – an epic tale of heroism in a battle against a corrupt, greedy king – but it didn’t really work for me.
The story starts when three brothers – Charles, Travis, and Matthew – set off on a multi-day hiking trip in the mountains. One night the cave the brothers are sheltering in collapses, somehow transporting them to a different place and time. They wake up in a medieval tavern in Ozark with no memory of how they got there, who they are, or where they came from. You might expect this amnesia to be disorienting, troubling, but you’d be wrong. The brothers acclimate to their new surroundings almost immediately, and within an hour of arriving in Ozark they’ve been recruited for the Resistance, a group of citizens fighting against their tyrannical ruler.
If this sounds improbable, that’s because it is. Herein lies my problem with this book.
The key plot points are way too simplistic, to the point of being ludicrous. Charles, Travis, and Matthew have zero memories, but they don’t seem to find this strange or care all that much. Rather than making even the slightest effort to regain their memories, the brothers throw themselves wholeheartedly into working for a Resistance they know next to nothing about, even though it means risking their lives. Surprisingly, no one in the Resistance seems to have any qualms about inviting complete strangers into their midst. Also surprisingly, the brothers are ridiculously easy to recruit.
There’s a passage towards the beginning of the book where Helius, a member of the Resistance, attempts to convince Travis to join the cause, which would mean Travis leaving his brothers (at this point they’ve established that they share a fraternal bond) in the middle of a dangerous, unfamiliar world:
“I don’t want to fight,” Travis said laconically.
“Your bar brawl didn’t exactly indicate to me that you don’t want to fight. Which is why I think I’ve found the guy I’ve been looking for,” Helius exclaimed happily. “There’s no time to waste, we must leave tonight.”
“What about Matthew and Charles?” Travis asked.
“They have their own destinies,” Helius answered.
“As long as squirt doesn’t get hurt,” Travis smiled weakly while motioning towards Matthew.
You sure put up a fight there, Travis. Helius really had to twist your arm.
It’s not just the plot that’s too simplistic; it’s the characterization, too. With the exception of Matthew, who’s the protagonist in the story, you don’t get a chance to develop your own opinions about characters. Instead, you’re simply told how you should think of them: “So-and-so is respected.” “So-and-so is brave.” “So-and-so is wise.” “So-and-so is a hero.” You simply get a brief statement of characters’ personalities instead of getting to see them in action.
I also wish Reed would have focused and expanded on relationships and emotional growth. Instead of simply announcing an emotion, I wanted to see that emotion demonstrated. Rather than saying, “Matthew was anxious,” or “The man’s temper was flaring,” I wanted Reed to show evidence of the anxiety and anger.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. It’s a scene where Matthew meets the Resistance’s leader, Kurtax:
“From the very onset, Matthew could see why Kurtax was so highly regarded. The man seemed to spew probity from his every feature. Matthew innately knew that if they were destined to win the war, it would be because Kurtax was their sedulous commander on the battlefield and the sagacious leader of it.”
Matthew met Kurtax all of five minutes ago, yet he inherently knows that Kurtax is a great leader? Um, okay. Just glancing at Kurtax may be enough for Matthew to discern his character, but not for me. I’m not going to believe Kurtax is respected or courageous or a great tactician until I witness him in action. Let me see him making a tough decision, or leading his men into battle, or rallying his troops with a rousing speech or act of bravery. Otherwise, there’s no reason for me to believe he’s all that and a bag of chips.
Here’s another example:
“Wilred’s height gave him credibility, but it was his mannerisms, which were similar to Kurtax’s or Irvin’s that seemed to instantly command respect.”
Again, what does Wilfred being tall have to do with him being credible? And what mannerisms make him command respect? Show me!
Reed may not provide much depth for his characters and plot, but he has no problem supplying plenty of details and examples for other stuff in this book. The unimportant things get the focus: there are long, specific descriptions of the terrain and precise explanations of exactly how the boys pack their bags, shoot arrows, crawl into berry bushes, walk through the woods, etc. The battle scenes are described at length (interestingly enough, small numbers of heroic Resistors can defeat vast armies of smelly, snarling bad guys), and so are the various plants and trees.
The thing that really pushed me over the edge with this book was the cliffhanger ending. When I read the last line of this book, I was FURIOUS. Not in the “Oh my gosh, how am I going to survive until I get the next book?” kind of way; it was more like, “Wow, I feel so cheated.” I usually don’t mind cliffhangers, but this one felt like a cop-out. You can’t just make a random statement at the end of a book – a statement that makes absolutely no sense and has nothing to do with the rest of the novel – and expect it to mean something to the reader when they have no idea what you’re talking about. I was NOT a happy camper when I finished this book.
If Courvalian: The Resistance has a saving grace, it’s Matthew, the youngest of the three brothers. He’s such an endearing character, always willing to help others even when it means putting his own comfort and safety at risk. When undertaking missions for the Resistance, Matthew is resourceful, smart, and uses his time wisely, practicing his dagger throwing and combat skills while trekking through the woods. He saves innocent bear cubs, fights bravely, and is an all-around good guy.
Still, Matthew alone can’t make up for my frustrations with this book. There are definitely readers who will heartily enjoy Courvalian: The Resistance, but it just wasn’t for me.