Guest Book Review by Cody Martin: Birth Of An Empire: The Beginning by Catrina Taylor
I’m reviewing a sci-fi book by Catrina Taylor. It is the first in the Xarrok series. The book follows Kayla, a girl with psionic powers who begins life as a slave, then joins the military. As she rises through the ranks, she experiences the horrors of war and finds the love of her life.
I wanted to like this book, I really did. The characters, for the most part, are distinct; and the prejudice of having psionic powers (telepathy, pyrokinesis, etc.) is nice. The plot is rich and moves from one thing to the next; sometimes it’s hard to catch your breath. Catrina Taylor has built an interesting universe that you want to explore more.
And you don’t explore it. There is almost no detail in the book and that is its biggest flaw. Almost no character, place, or object descriptions are given. We have no idea what a Ven or a Xentonian look like. It look several chapters to learn that Catrina was not misspelling hearts; I thought she meant ‘heart’ until I found out much later that Kayla has two hearts. Most of the action takes place aboard ships, but no description is given. Are they sleek and smooth like technology in Star Trek, or rough with knobs and buttons like Star Wars? We don’t really know.
And this lack of detail extends to the storytelling. The Dentonians and Xenonians don’t like each other but we are never told why. Kayla and her love Yatrell are on the opposite sides of a war, but we never learn what the war is about. The book is all about telling us, and not showing us. Without details and backstory I felt lost, just moving from one scene to the next.
Another problem were scenes in which we jumped from one character’s head or POV to another, sometimes in the same paragraph. This was especially true when Kayla and Yatrell would speak to each other telepathically. We would start with Kayla, sitting in her bed looking out the window. She would project her thoughts to Yatrell, then we would switch to his location as he is sitting at his desk reading ship reports. This sudden character jumping was jarring and took me out of the story.
It is clear Catrina Taylor has built a universe. The detail she spent on the wedding scene was very good and gave me a strong sense of the culture and the importance of the items used, and everything world building should be. Sadly, this wasn’t applied to the rest of the book and it hurt because of it.
In closing, this book had a lot of potential to be epic, but the lack of detail, the “telling not showing” style of writing really hurts it.