Pocket, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-8962-4
Sea of Sorrows is a novel based on the world of the MMORPG Guild Wars 2, and it takes place earlier than the previous two books.
This one focuses on twenty or so years of our hero Cobiah “Coby” Marriner’s life and how he rebuilt Lion’s Arch after it was destroyed in a colossal tidal wave created from the rising of the sunken kingdom of Orr by the Elder Dragon Zhaitan. When Zhaitan’s army of undead starts showing up in Dead Ships to pulverize Lion’s Arch, Coby has his hands full. But if only things were that simple. He also has to deal with internal politics, attempted hostile takeover by the Krytan ruler, and his romantic turmoil with fellow pirate Isaye.
While it is more common for books to suffer from a sagging middle, Sea of Sorrows is one of those odd instances where the middle parts of the story are easily the most entertaining bits to read. The beginning, which chronicles the sad life of Coby (an unnecessary nickname that is more at home in a Disney movie) as he went from battered eldest son of a drunkard mother to a crew member of Indomitable, is full of over-the-top scenarios and overwrought prose.
The middle third of the story is easily the best part to read. This is where this book stands out as the best of the three books based on Guild Wars 2: it has a cast of colorful secondary characters that are memorable, great momentum, and deftly written action scenes that are actually thrilling to read. The author also wisely avoids the traps that many fantasy franchise write-for-hire authors fall into: unnecessary descriptions of a character’s hair or other distinctive physical feature at the oddest moments, exposition that stick out like a sore thumb to disrupt the flow of the story, and too much telling instead of showing. There are actually efforts at character development – not too much, but enough – and the various plot elements come together very well.
The story sags again in the late third, mostly because Coby actually devolves as a character. He and Isaye have a relationship that becomes another stereotypical and painful affair of stupid misunderstanding and refusal to communicate, made worse by Coby turning out to be easily the most stupid character in this story. He is actually not the brightest bulb in the shed for the most part of a story. As a 16 year old living by the sea all his life and being friends with sailors and all, for example, he still thinks that ships get to where they are without any navigation system. But that’s when he’s 16, or even 26. Some people take a while to become smart, after all. But when he is 36 and is still the dumbest goon in the house, that’s really pushing it.
Now, it’s nice to have a hero who isn’t the most amazing fellow in the world, for once, But, at the same time, it’s not nice to have a hero who is always reading a situation wrongly, relying on his allies for advice, and whines that he doesn’t know what to do the first instant he faces a difficult situation. He is very emotional, prone to picking fights without caring for the consequences, and behaves like a brat through and through. Why does everyone else look up to this twit as a leader again? It isn’t even him that saves the day in the end.
Isaye isn’t much better. She may be able to kick some rear ends now and then, but she’s crippled by her lawful stupid nature. She’s that kind of idiot who will stand in the middle of the road and let her entire entourage be hit by a bus because the traffic light turns red as she is halfway across the road.
Sea of Sorrows is still a pretty good read during the late third, but that’s due to the author’s engaging narrative, solid build-up to a grand climax, and the secondary characters. Coby and Isaye try pretty hard to ruin the story with their obtuse antics, but fortunately the other characters are smarter than these two.
While not always a winner, this one is easily the best of the three novels set in this setting so far. That may not seem much, considering the bar set by those two books, but it’s actually a pretty fun way to while away a few hours.