My Review of The Savior's Champion, by Jenna Moreci
The Savior’s Champion, by Jenna Moreci is a New Adult Fantasy novel set in Thessen, a country that was once a desolate wasteland on the brink of collapse until the land was purified by the magical power of a woman known as the Savior. With each passing generation, the Savior has given birth to a single daughter, who inherits the name of The Savior along with the magical powers that are believed to protect the realm of Thessen from harm and poverty. For hundreds of years, countless men have competed in the Sovereign’s Tournament for the chance to be wed to their generation’s Savior, and to rule the realm alongside her as the Sovereign. Among these men is Tobias Kaya, an artist forced into a life of labor to help support his poor family, who reluctantly enters The Sovereign’s Tournament to provide his mother and sister with the money they desperately need. As Tobias finds himself in the company of nineteen other men, each fighting for the Savior’s hand in marriage at any cost, one question rests on his mind: how will he survive?
This is a book that was highly anticipated near the beginning of 2018. For those of you who don’t already know, Jenna Moreci is a well-known AuthorTuber who posts writing advice videos on her YouTube channel, which I was lucky enough to discover just before this book’s release. I always try to support AuthorTubers in any way I can because they’re so helpful to so many aspiring authors like myself, and they deserve a lot of success considering how generous they are to their fans. I pre-ordered this book about two or three days before its official release, and thank goodness I did, because I had a great time reading it.
The Savior’s Champion is everything I was hoping it would be. It’s a suspenseful, action-packed thrill ride that hardly ever dragged and never made me want to stop. Even when I set the book down (I mean, we all have to sleep eventually, right?), I always wanted to know what would happen next, and that’s not always the case with me. I’ve learned that I’m a little hard to please with the fantasy genre as a whole. A lot of the detail and description that goes into worldbuilding is something I’ll often criticize for dragging the pacing of the story and taking time away from the plot and the characters, but I think Jenna Moreci discovered my sweetspot. She’s able to establish her setting and the history of Thessen just enough to pique my interest in the first few chapters, and still reach her inciting incident at just the right time. I knew enough about Tobias and his family situation to feel empathy for him right from the start, and it didn’t take too long for me to start caring about him.
I think the two strongest elements of this book boil down to its pacing, and the way it’s able to balance its action with its romantic subplot. Every chapter feels like it contributes something to the narrative flow. Every chapter has a clear focus, whether it’s a challenge in the tournament or a conversation between a few characters. Almost every scene ends with something eye-catching that makes you want to read just one more chapter to see what the fallout is going to be from what you just read.
But what really impressed me about this book was the way it handled Tobias and Leila’s relationship. Congratulations, Jenna! You did the impossible. You were somehow able to insert a romantic subplot into a violent, action-packed fantasy epic without making me roll my eyes or cringe even one time. You may now add “Recipient of the J. Taylor Baker Award for Impossible Literary Achievement” to your very impressive résumé. I honestly didn’t expect to like this part of the book that much at all. When I watched one of Jenna’s videos and learned Tobias would have a love interest, I figured this was going to be my least favorite part of the book. Luckily, that was not the case. In fact, Leila might actually be my favorite character. She encapsulates this really good balance between someone who is vulnerable and concerned about the wellbeing of those she cares about, but someone who’s also gritty enough to stand up for herself in a fight if you get on her bad side. Her character doesn’t feel forced into the story by an author who was looking for a way to slip romance in her story. Her presence is very natural. You really get a sense of what her life is like even when, in the context of the novel, she’s a supporting character in Tobias’s story.
What makes their romance even better is that it adds to the main conflict. Tobias is in the Sovereign’s Tournament because he is competing for the right to marry the Savior, but as he grows closer to Leila, he realizes he only wants to be with her, even when the path he is on is constantly leading him further and further away from her. The only way to survive the perils of the Sovereign’s Tournament is to win, but winning means he has to marry someone else, and this adds some incredible tension. Near the end of the book, I was constantly asking myself how Tobias was going to figure this out, and how Jenna was going to put all these pieces together so that he could achieve the impossible. I was constantly trying to guess how all of this would be resolved, and without going into spoilers, I can tell you that Jenna definitely delivered an incredible ending that left me both satisfied and completely shocked.
My only real complaints about The Savior’s Champion revolve around the dialogue, the other supporting characters, and one fairly minor story problem that kind of bugged me as I kept reading.
I actually really like a lot of the dialogue in this book. I especially love a lot of the sarcastic, witty banter that Tobias has with Milo and Flynn, and the way they go back and forth messing with each other, and as I said before, there weren’t any cringy lines in the romantic scenes that made me roll my eyes. There are however a few times in the book when the dialogue shifts to sounding really polished and overly poetic, like something you would expect to hear in some old black-and-white film. I understand that this is a fantasy novel and so this kind of polished language is more fitting here than it would be in something more contemporary, but when one scene is filled with all that witty, sarcastic banter, and the next scene has the characters speaking with more flowery language, it starts to mess with the voice I was imagining for the characters, and it definitely took me out of the book a few times.
There were also a few instances where I felt like Jenna Moreci accidentally broke the fourth wall and let our own world seep into her book. I don’t have the exact page number written down, but there’s a section where she references the part of the human body known as the Cupid’s bow, even though Cupid wouldn’t exist in this world. The characters also say things like “I swear to God,” the way we do, even though these characters are supposed to worship the Savior and would probably have a different way of cursing. Yes, I understand this is kind of a minor complaint, but I feel like it’s at least worth mentioning. Heck, for all I know, maybe Thessen has a mythological figure who also happens to be named Cupid and this isn’t even an issue.
The story problem I alluded to above has to do with how a lot of the competitors in The Sovereign’s Tournament are able to successfully kill other competitors without being punished, even when the challenge doesn’t require any of them to kill one another. This is something I heard about on Jordan Harvey’s review, which I watched before I read the book, and I agree with her that it does pose an issue to the logic of the story for a few reasons. Without going into spoilers, I will say that there are a noteworthy number of competitors who specifically want to kill Tobias, and yet they inexplicably decide to wait and prolong it for a later time, even though they’re willing to kill other characters who aren’t vital to the story. The same issue applies to Tobias. Again, no spoilers, but there’s a scene about halfway through the book where Tobias helps one of his allies kill another competitor out of revenge, but they never team up again to deal with another one of their enemies. The point is, there’s nothing stopping any of the competitors from killing anyone at any given time. The whole tournament could have been over in ten minutes, but it’s allowed to last for thirty days because the characters just randomly decide when they want to be nice.
Let me phrase it like this: have you ever seen a movie where a bunch of bad guys with guns are able to shoot and kill all of the nameless supporting characters without breaking a sweat, but whenever they try to kill the main character, they suddenly can’t aim and he or she is able to escape? That’s what this felt like to me. It was easy to see how the author was trying to keep certain characters alive so their rivalries could come head to head later in the book, even though nothing was stopping them from killing each other right away. I feel like this really hurt the book not just because of the lack of logic, but because of how it could have been used to provide tension. There could have been a scene early on when one character murders another competitor completely unprompted, but is then punished for his offense and dies a much more painful death. Jenna could have also made it a point that only the competitors who are favored by the Sovereign himself are able to kill without being punished, which would mean that Tobias would have to stay on his toes at all times because he knows that he can be killed without consequence, but if he chooses to kill one of his enemies, he’ll be punished for it and die anyway. I think there were a few missed opportunities for creating tension that came from giving the characters this much freedom, and as much as I liked this book, I have to be honest about that.
My final piece criticism is that I honestly didn’t care about any of the other competitors besides Tobias. Characters die almost every other chapter, and I really didn’t care when even the more likable ones were killed. There are plenty of competitors in the Sovereign’s Tournament who are written to be antagonists who we aren’t supposed to like, but I think the book could have been a lot stronger if there were maybe one or two competitors who we grew to like early on in the tournament so that their deaths would have carried more weight. I also felt like it was kind of easy at a certain point to predict which character was going to die next, since most of them got a lot of attention in the previous chapter when they were completely invisible before, but maybe that’s just me. I watch a lot of Survivor, so I’m more familiar with this kind of setup than most people.
I feel like my negative section has gone on for a lot longer than this book deserves, so I want to circle back to some positives before I end this review.
Criticisms aside, The Savior’s Champion is a fast-paced, suspenseful, utterly captivating story that always made me wonder what was going to happen next. The worldbuilding was clear and well-developed, but didn’t detract from the main plot and lull the pacing down with pointless exposition. Tobias and Leila are great characters who really help ground this story and give the reader something to look forward to, and the way all these different plot threads come together at the end make for one great finale. I ended up giving this book 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, but I think it definitely tops my list of 4-star rated books. I definitely recommend checking this book out.
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