I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for my open and honest review.
I find it difficult to write about fantasy novels because often, many of the same tropes are used – the oppressive king/dictator, the band of spunky rebels, forbidden magic, etc. And because many of these tropes are used often, it unfortunately impacts how I receive new novels in the genre. I am not sure if this is fair and the truth of our lived-experiences is our lens is framed by what we have experienced in the past. When new authors publish a book, whether with a publishing house or independently, I am looking for the aspects of the story that makes it unique and engaging.
Oasis by Bharat Krishnan is a fantasy novel that aims to mix an epic journey with Asian/API mythologies. Below is a brief description of the book from the author:
Once, there was a truce. Desperaux controlled the west with magic, and Desire claimed the east with steel and science.
But now magic has disappeared, and the world has changed.
The kingdom of Desire will stop at nothing to maintain the new world order. On Juno’s wedding day, their Mengery soldiers came marching through the Nine desert to rip his world apart. Now he journeys east with his adopted brother, Trey, in search of revenge after the death of his family. Along the way, the two face bandits and the magical creatures of the Nine. When the two finally reach Desire, they’ll face something even deadlier – their own fears and ambitions.
This is a tale of brotherhood, a revenge story that will remind you that everything has a cost – a cost that will be paid to Desire, and to the inner demons that govern us all.
Unfortunately, Oasis was a bit hit or miss for me, often leaning in the miss direction for periods of time. When I finished the novel, I could not put my finger on one aspect and I took some time to think through my experience with Oasis. I found I could not necessarily identity one common thread of dislike and found it easier to identify certain aspects I enjoyed and certain aspects I did not like so much.
What I enjoyed:
- The use of API mythologies. Fantasy, written by White authors, have used Asian mythologies in their own stories in ways that are appropriative or stereotypical. I am always looking for Asian Pacific Islander (API) authors that are writing from an own voices perspective, infusing culture, mythologies, and experiences in their characters and stories. Author Bharat Krishnan does just that in the creation of his world and magic system.
- The magic system. I guess this is the point where I talk about the magic system. I found it unique and one of the most compelling parts of the story (where Juno is learning to harness magic) what individuals can do with magic, the toll it takes on their bodies, the different planes magic users can access, and how it is intertwined with the creatures that inhabit the Nine. My favorite part of the book followed Juno exclusively and was the first half of the story. Outside of Juno’s story, magic came up a bit and magic use came up rarely.
- The two part narrative. I absolutely love storytelling from multiple perspectives and characters. I love experiencing the same events / timeline in different ways – and at the very least, know what is going on in two places concurrently. Oasis follows Juno in the first half of the book and Trey in the second half. When the story reaches it’s climax, the two character’s perspectives meet. While the overall story and writing did not compile me, I think the two part narrative was the right choice to tell this story.
- The commentary on immigration and refugees. One of the most powerful parts of the book for me was when Trey reaches the city of Desire. He has an encounter with officials in Desire which for me mirrors much of the discourse the United States is having about immigration and refugees. Maybe this was Bharat Krishnan’s intention or maybe it my perception of this piece of the book was heightened by my own experience. Nevertheless, the encounter made me reflect on… who gets let into our country and why? The surrounding lands of Desire are in crisis and to see the experience of immigrants and refugees in the book be similar to actual immigrants and refugees was… tiring but also refreshing that it was called out so blatantly.
What I did not like so much:
- Characters seemed to make hasty decisions about critical issues without thinking of the possible outcomes and consequently, characters seemed to act outside of their developed characters (e.g., I was not able to believe a character would actually make the decision they did in the book). This aspect was probably my biggest issue with the book and I want to explain using one example from the story, although it happens multiple times. If you do not want to know anything about the book (this could be considered minor spoilers), please skip to the next bullet. When Trey first entered the city, he tells a lie that he is linked to royalty from another city. Without so much as a background check, he is accepted into the city where he meets the daughter of the king and a little while later dines with the king himself. For a city that is the source of oppression and suffering for so many people, I would expect them to deny refugees, do background checks on large claims, and at the very least, have more limited access to the city’s royalty! I could not believe that these characters would simply trust Trey and bring him into the inner royal court. This is one example – and the repetition of these ‘unbelievable actions’ frustrated me as a reader.
- Time seemed to go very fast. There were moments in the book where I felt it jumped weeks or months without much indication. Whether it was Juno’s training in the rebel camp or Trey forming relationships in Desire, I found the experience of reading to be jumpy – time was very slow, focusing on many details and then suddenly we were somewhere else. I think the best way to describe it is I felt the pacing was off.
- The old fantasy tropes present. Evil dictator oppressing people outside of the city, a rebellion with a prophesied savior, the corruption of power and wealth… it all seemed so old to me when reading Oasis. I do want to acknowledge that these tropes exist for good reason – they often are engaging and readers can relate to the struggles of the main characters. For me, I think I have been worn out by these tropes and was looking for something refreshing.
- World creation. A new fantasy world has to grip me. A world that grips me is one where I can recall names of most characters, places, and significant events. This is achieved through stellar world building and development that slowly leads the reader to care about the characters, places, and events connected to the story. Unfortunately, I never felt very connected to the world and the lack of connection framed what I thought of the book overall.
I want to give a disclaimer with my rating – while I was not head over heals for Oasis, I do think there is merit in this novel. I would recommend you give Oasis a look because it is very well possible you will connect more with the story and characters than I did.
Final Rating: 2.5/5