“Comrades We” by A. Louise Olson is a fantasy drama about a groups of young friends and their abilities. In the world of this book, Olson has melded fantasy, magic and human dramas together to tell the story of 7 young people growing up and discovering their place in the world while shouldering great responsibility and learning about relationships. The Kingdom of Yaidanain is the primary location of this story, an empire that seems to be on the brink of something no one can understand, but they find an ally in the newly appointed Greatmage, who must also learn about his new power and what lies before him. His friends are always at his side however, and ready to support him and each other as they begin a quest that spans this series.
We learn a lot about this world, about the provinces, the languages and customs of the various kingdoms, as well as about the main characters. As these young strangers are introduced they all become fast friends and find themselves responsible for much more than their studies at the Academy of Yaidanain. It is clear this was designed as an introduction to the rest of the series, laying the foundation for what the reader needs to know to understand adventures in future books.
This book was great; it was fun and enjoyable, without too much complexity to it. But as I find often with some independently published books I found it way too short. Now normally my complaint is because there is so much left unsaid, so much more that could have been created and because I love the book and the story I want more, however in this case it was less about my enjoyment and more about solid story structure. We learn about the kingdom of Yaidanain, and that there are other kingdoms, but we have very little understanding of how they interact, or don’t interact with each other. We meet characters so briefly and are expected to form strong attachments to them. In the same vein we witness the deaths of characters we barely know and are supposed to be emotional about this. At 170 pages this felt exactly like a roller coaster; you are initially plunged off the edge into a deep drop and encounter many twists and turns, and then just as you feel like you are getting to grips with the ride it’s over and you have to get off. While I could see the bones of a great series in this book, it would have read much better if Olson had taken more time with it and eased the reader into the world more slowly. To put it into perspective in 170 pages we are taken through approximately 4 or 5 years of the lives of the main characters, where they study and build relationships with others, and sometimes end relationships. Imagine if the Harry Potter series of books was condensed into 170 pages, how much would you feel like you were riding in the Indy 500? With so little writing space I have to wonder how much Olson felt restricted in her writing, felt that details about the environments or descriptions of people had to be cut in order to cram in all the plot points of this book.
That being said I am impressed that Olsons’ writing style clearly didn’t suffer because of the short length. She has some impressive writing chops and it was a delight to experience them. The way she organically takes the reader on a tour of the Academy buildings when a new student enters the mix, rather than try to stuff it into the beginning when we first encounter the building was a smooth as a professional. The nature of the relationship between humans and gods was intriguing and the brief glimpses of this left me sufficiently intrigued to learn more.
Olson has the bones of an excellent and far reaching series on her hands, and with some patience and care could be on the verge of an enduring world. My only advice to her would be to take things slowly, don’t pigeonhole yourself or feel like you have to restrict yourself to a particular number of books or a particular length of book. You are the master of this world and this story is yours, you have so many options and so much you can create that the sky is the limit here. You have the talent behind you now all you have to do is show the world what you can really do!
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