Before I start, I need to point out something about how I read books in order for this review to make sense. I’m not a very visual reader, I see words and they echo in my head. Sometimes pictures come if I concentrate hard enough, but that slows down my ability to read. Intricate descriptions of an object’s physical properties do very little to paint a picture in my mind. Action scenes often have to ride on emotional momentum. For me, words inform the mood of a book and suck me in through intensity, atmosphere, and emotion. I think it’s why I tend to gravitate towards a large vocabulary; fine-tuned wording is more effective at enhancing my personal reading experience. So take the following review with a grain of salt as this inclination very much tailored my experience with Companion by Luke Matthews. Companion, also a self published novel, is a risky follow up to Construct. It bets on high characterization over the strong plotting seen previously, leaving me with mixed emotions. However, while I adored the introspective elements, the sometimes overly detailed stage dampened my enjoyment of the book.
Companion picks up a little while after the end of Construct. Jacob splits off from Eriane and Samuel, his plan is to close up some loose ends so they do not hinder the group in their ultimate quest. Samuel follows Eriane on her own separate quest to find the fabled Gunsmith. Eriane had broken her gun in their climatic fight in Construct, and direly needs it fixed. Unfortunately, in this world, even owning a gun, let alone using one, is grounds for execution. Then there is Dal, a man who has lost his memories and returns to his old crew by accident. Despite his former crew’s misgivings and suspicions about him coming back, he tags along for an escort mission through some of the most dangerous territory in the land. He doesn’t quite know what he’s looking for, but he feels he’s in the right place anyway, even though his life is very much on the line.
Alright, let’s dive in. I had trouble with Companion. While some areas of the book reduced my enjoyment, Matthews made some choices I particularly liked. I enjoyed Matthews’ switch to a more introspective story, especially given the ending of Construct. The characters each had their own journey, all of which feel earned and in some ways necessary for future installments. They each had their own pasts to resolve with their perceived futures and wanted to prepare for the fights ahead. There was a solid theme of identity portrayed through each character as they tried to reconcile who they were and who they are. I also appreciated that the introspection did not require fighting through bodies to come to their respective ends within the book. Dal was a wonderful addition to the cast that helped increase the weirdness within the world of The Chronicler Saga. He added some grit even though he was bewildered most of the time, trying to catch up with the madness of his previous life.
Their individual travels also allowed for a further realization of the world. Not a whole lot, but there were the beginnings of a larger place with small towns scattered about. It’s not as fleshed out as I normally would like, but the glimpse was nice and added to the dark western feel I got from the previous book. Matthews took a slower route this time, and it was scenic enough. But I think this was where I had some trouble. Where Construct hooked me with its driving plot and thick atmosphere, Companion had to rely mostly on the characters and a curiosity of the world. Both were handled, and in some cases handled well, I just didn’t particularly jive with some of the choices made throughout the book. Especially the decision to backseat Samuel’s own role within the story, but I digress.
Part of it comes back to the issue I described in the introduction. Companion seemed to be filled with more character and object description than I remembered from the first book. I don’t have the distinct feeling that it was as prevalent in Construct as it was here. There were intricate details of things in places that I didn’t really care about. People covered in trinkets, dusty tables covered in books, and other fantasy paraphernalia that didn’t add too much to the flavor for me. So I tried to ignore that by really ramping up my attention to the characters. The problem I ran into here wasn’t so much the development as much as there were no foils. The characters were different enough, I just didn’t get the distinct feeling that their journeys were very different from each other. Construct benefitted from the back and forth between the perceived good and bad guys, giving you a different taste of story beats. But Companion has three protagonists that are all on similar internal quests that lead to similar outcomes. The lack of variety made it feel slower and more of a trudge than the previous book, which was frustrating for me.
Ultimately I had a very middling experience with Companion. I didn’t hate it at the end nor did I feel betrayed, but in some ways I did feel appreciative. Appreciative that Matthews took some interesting risks that for me paid off two-thirds of the time. In part my particular reading style got in the way, but also because of those same risks. If you liked Construct, I think you’ll like this one and your mileage may vary depending on the kind of reader you are. The characters are better and more interesting, and the world just has a little more to it. I’m still interested in the world, and I really want to see Samuel’s and his friends’ journeys to the end and unveil the revelations of the Chroniclers. I didn’t like it as much as Construct, but don’t let that deter you if you’re curious. Matthews has certainly put in the work, and I hope he continues to do so in the next book.
Rating: Companion– 6.5/10