[Sevara: Dawn of Hope] Damian Wampler

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I first heard about Sevara: Dawn of Hope on a goodreads discussion group and thought that it sounded like something I would be interested in. Fantasy with a dystopian feel and a strong female protagonist are things I frequently read, with varying results.  The author was kind enough to provide me with a copy to review, and I finally had enough free time to sit down and finish it.  Sevara, the eponymous protagonist of the novel, is used to a hard life. At her orphanage, once you reach a certain age you’re no longer looked at as an eligible girl for  marriage because you won’t be easy to train as a wife. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to continue living with the other unwanted at the orphanage for a few years until you come of age. For in Plexus, the men rule and the women are little more than pretty baubles that hang on their arms.  This isn’t easy for Sevara to swallow. Although her time in Orphanage 127 has been tough, she’s proved herself a quick thinker and fighter, despite the starkness of her conditions. She’s independent, a product of the nurturing she’s been lucky to receive, and isn’t keen on the idea of becoming a servant-wife. After the harsh reality of seeing the private versus public personality of the man interested in her hand, Sevara rejects a marriage offer and is thrown into the cruel world where the Codex is law and orphan girls with no paperwork don’t survive long. The streets are where her adventure is truly able to begin.

Sevara works hard to have many bigger issues tied together by Sevara’s relationship with them. She tries to discover her past and where she came from, there’s grumblings of a rebellion, corruption in the government, and a war that has been going on for ages. The novel focuses primarily on the last three, and Sevara’s identity–other than the one she creates herself–remains a mystery. Damian Wampler teases who she is, which makes me wish there had been more on her past. I wanted to know how her identity would change how she acted toward her world. Unfortunately, at least in the novel form of Sevara, it only seemed to serve as a way to connect Sevara to the larger narration. There’s a focus on it after the initial discovery but it doesn’t go beyond that. However, by not focusing on it in Dawn of Hope, it opens up the possibility for another novel. I’ve not read the graphic novel, but it does appear that some of my questions may be answered there, with Dawn of Hope acting as a prequel.

The novel is written in third person, so we only have limited glimpses into the heads of the characters. Although Sevara is the protagonist, we are not given every thought that she has. We’re not given a complete window into their heads to see every thought that they have as it comes. It’s more like a foggy window that occasionally clears in order for us to see that one thought in a specific moment. Because of this, a lot of their actions can seem like there was little thought behind them. They did things that often surprised me because there was seemingly no leading up to them.  I’m used to seeing more, so this was a bit difficult for me. I continually struggled with connecting to the characters. I was truly interested in who they were, but I never felt that surge of empathy for the characters. It’s the first time I’ve liked a protagonist that I didn’t connect with emotionally. Although this book was fiction, it reminded me of how I feel when I read non-fiction accounts of historical figures. Usually this would bother me more, but strangely, it worked for Sevara.

This is a novel that deals with the harsh realities of a dystopic world, so there were many deaths contained in its pages. Unfortunately, the emotional impact of these deaths were very little for me. This is a downfall of having a limited look into the heads of your characters. Even when the main characters were upset about losing someone, I couldn’t drudge up any concrete feelings because the character themselves weren’t very emotional about it. The deaths of these side characters were meant to drive the story forward, but I would have loved to have a moment where Sevara cracked under the loss of a close comrade, at least for a moment. It was very clinical, in a way. Related to this is how the romance came across. It was unrealized and then suddenly it was. There was none of those moments that are usually typical of romances in young adult novels, which allowed the focus to stay away from the romance. Too many times an adventure story with a hint of romance turns into a romance story with a hint of adventure once the romance taps have been turned on. Sevara stayed true to what it was about.

There were times when the dialogue was too quick and there weren’t dialogue tags or guiding actions. There were a of couple sections that were only dialogue and I had to read back to see if I was correct about  who was speaking. I prefer knowing more of how the characters are acting and what they’re doing while talking, and early in the novel it was a bit rough.  There was a huge difference between the quick dialogue and the wonderfully descriptive exposition. As the novel progressed, I noticed these moments less because it aided in giving a rushed, nervous quality to the events of the novel that were dangerous or action-packed. Of course, there were still moments when I noticed it, but as the world of Sevara enveloped me, I found I was able to forgive those corny or odd moments of dialogue.

By hinting at magic to come in early sections of the novel, Damian Wampler allowed us to believe in it when larger elements were introduced. It was not a sudden change because it had always been there. As Sevara grew from an orphan trying to survive to someone who was powerful in her own way, the magic was there, waiting for its own time. The switch to the larger goal came when Sevara was ready for it and through her the readers were prepared. I really wanted to read more of the magic that he created in Sevara, so it’s too bad that more of the novel couldn’t have been about it.

A coming-of-age novel set in a dystopian future, Sevara will appeal to readers of the genre and to those who like a strong female protagonist who won’t back down from her beliefs. I really enjoyed this despite the lack of time spent in characters’ heads. The setting was rich and I’m looking forward to checking out the graphic novel when I can. Sevara ends on a note that is ripe with possibilities for sequels.

4 stars.

A big thank you again to the author for providing me with a copy of Sevara: Dawn of Hope to read and review.

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