Whispers from the Depths is a dark fantasy novel written by C.W. Briar.
Because this review is of a novel, a much longer piece than I usually cover, the review will be longer too. But I think there is a lot of awesome stuff to be learned from Briar’s work so it’ll definitely be worth it.
But first, my overall review.
Now for my detailed analysis.
As always, there will be SPOILERS!
WHAT I LIKED:
The pacing of this novel was phenomenal.
Once I got past chapter two, I was hooked and could not put it down. (I might have been hooked from page one but Brian chose to use a pov that was not his main character’s. More on that later.)
I’m not sure if the great pacing was due to the fact that Brian expertly wielded cliffhangers at the end of each of his chapters or if it was because I was so drawn in to the powerful emotions of Betka (the main character). Though, it was probably a bit of both as he did both very well.
Betka (the main character) drew me in immediately.
I loved her spirit, though her captors did their best to crush it beneath their heels. She remained determined to defy them in whatever way possible, searching/longing for freedom both for her body and for her mind.
Betka’s Character Arc:
Character’s without growth would be boring and, in my opinion, nothing shows off a writer’s lack of skill more than a character that does not have a compelling arc.
Betka’s arc was one of coming to terms with the responsibility her powerful gift imposed upon her. A responsibility that demanded she not only serve her enemies but love them as well.
A difficult thing for anyone to do. (Relatability is really important anywhere that character emotions come into focus.)
It isn’t just the emotions of the character that create a compelling arc, though.
It’s a combination of the main character’s desires coming into conflict with the desires of the characters she runs into as they travel through a mine filled plot.
And Brian delivered just that in Whispers from the Depths.
Overall, the side characters were great. (Occasionally their personalities seemed to waffle, but we’ll get to that in a second.)
Each side character was well thought out, and jumped off the page at me.
Even ones that only showed up for a line of two in the book.
I think this is, in part, because Brian took such care to structure very memorable scenes for each character. No character just walked into a room to set a cup down. If the character was in the room, Brian made sure to use them to show off one of the other more important side character’s personality (or the personality of Betka herself).
He also made sure that those scenes he structured were filled to the brim with emotion. People remember emotional cues more than any other, so it’s a great way to get readers to remember your minor characters.
For instance, near the end of the book Betka’s grandfather sneaks into a temple (it’s a bit more complicated than that but that explanation will do for now).
Once in the temple he encounters a slave boy (a fellow whisperer). Eden (Betka’s grandfather) needs to know where a certain treasure is, and obviously Brian put the boy in the scene to tell him.
However, instead of having Eden encounter the boy while he does some boring task like dusting, Eden finds the boy covered in blood and hiding from his master beneath the treasures in the temple’s vault.
The boy nearly gives Eden a heart attack by suddenly appearing (a good emotion to introduce him on) and then breaks Eden’s (and the reader’s) heart by explaining that he made a mistake and will be punished for it (maybe even killed).
When the boy reveals that the treasure Eden is looking for is gone, Eden gives him some money to use to get out of trouble (showing us Eden’s compassion) and the scene ends with Eden disappointed that he has failed his mission but happy he was able to help the boy.
Shaping the scene this way Brian was not only able to share the important plot relevant information (the treasure was gone) with the reader but was also able to create a memorable minor side character and show off Eden’s compassion.
Worldbuilding/ Flashbacks/ Exposition:
WFTD is a great example of sharing information with readers without any dreaded info dumps.
Seriously, if you’re looking to find a great example of flashbacks being integrated into a story, this is the one to read. I was never irritated when Betka's memories came to the fore, and I was consistently intrigued when Brian introduced a new element of the Whisperer’s world, powers, or treatment by others.
I am in a love hate relationship with the ending of this book.
I love happy endings and this one was the very definition of bitter-sweet. (I do like bitter-sweet endings too but they give me book hangovers like you wouldn’t believe.)
Despite my personal preference I have to put the ending of W.I.T.D. in the liked category because of how well it was done.
It’s hard to get readers behind sad endings.
One major component to the trick is to make sure it is believable. Brian managed this well by making sure Betka had no other choice when it came down to making her decision to sacrifice herself for the others in her group.
There also has to be an element of loss involved. In other words, the character has to want to live. And the reader has to want the character to live.
Brian expertly gave Betka plenty of motivation to do the sensible thing and run away instead of committing her act of sacrifice, making the sacrifice all the more compelling.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER:
The Side Characters:
From all of the positivity above you might be wondering what I could have possible found wrong with this book.
But this section isn’t about things I thought were bad, but the things I think could have been improved upon.
And even things I liked overall, might benefit from another coat of polish.
For instance, the side characters.
All of Brian’s side character were memorable and engaging, but sometimes their motivations and goals seemed to shift as the plot needed. This was particularly true of the more important side characters, like the main human antagonist, Rorlen.
One minute he seemed to be a very competent leader, then when the plot needed a bit of tension he’d do something absolutely stupid. Such as when he attacked Betka during a very dangerous part of their adventure, when he had an absolute and undeniable need for her powers.
Character has to drive plot and for the most part, Brian’s characters did just that, but in a few instances when the plot needed them to change, they did. (The tension of the scenes usually made me forget about the issue immediately so in some cases it might be okay in the greater scheme of things to let this happen but it’s something to watch out for.
I enjoyed this plot a great deal.
It was heart pounding and soul wrenching, it was multi-faceted and complex, and I felt suspense throughout without really knowing where the story was heading, all of the things you want in a good book.
However, some of the major points in the plot didn’t add up.
For instance, Rorlen (the main human antagonist) wanted to make it to the castle before his crew did because he didn’t want his illicit affairs and treasonous deeds to get back to the king. But his first plan was to sail up the coast, with his whole crew. This only became impossible thanks to the unforeseen antics of a water spirit blocking their path. Without that he would have arrived at the castle, with his while crew. This obviously would have made his goal impossible to achieve.
There were a few other instances where the plot points didn’t add up.
Like, how the whisperer treasures (an important plot element) ended up at the castle. Or how Betka’s family ended up somehow outside of the country she became enslaved by, considering her grandfather lived in that country and became a slave in it/freed in it…
Just a few small things that didn’t bother me while reading the book, but that left me scratching my head after I had had a few days to think back on it.
For the most part, I didn’t mind the POV changes and they often acted as cliffhangers, forcing me to read the book faster to know what would happen to the main character next.
Obviously this could leave readers frustrated if done poorly but Brian did a good job at it.
With one possible exception.
The book started off in the POV of Betka’s grandfather, not with Betka herself. And I didn’t learn how he was related to Betka until much later.
Obviously I guessed that he was important to her in some way, but I found myself not that interested in jumping in to chapter two.
In fact, I put off reading it for awhile because chapter one failed to create the same emotional response in me that chapter two did.
Later on when I was already emotionally invested in Betka, I found myself accepting Eden (her grandfather)’s pov scenes more, though this may have been an effect of wanting to know what happened to Betka in the scene after his.
His scenes were very important to the story, but that didn’t become apparent until much later. (This was important to the mystery element of the story, btw.) So, I can see why they were added.
I’m really curious how this change in POV affected other readers but for me, it turned into a double edged sword.
I enjoyed reading Whispers from the Depths so much and am stoked to read more of C.W. Briar’s work when he finishes more.
My only major complaint is that this is his debut which means I’ll have to wait at minimum a year before he’ll have more out. (Yes. I am pouting about it.)
But we can still learn a bunch from this novel!
So until then, lets pick this awesome book apart for everything it’s worth.
As always, please comment! I love me some book chats.