The Caldarian Conflict, by Mike Kalmbach
Kindle Edition: 262 pages
First published: August 2011
Brother Mendell isn’t someone you’d expect to see helping a pirate. After all, he’s a monk who follows a god named Lord Justice, and pirates certainly deserve punishment. As a corrupt military deals death to pirates using questionable methods, Mendell finds himself caught in the crossfire when he seeks justice for an unfairly executed prisoner.
No one is safe as Admiral Cain and his ruthless assistant Krell struggle to maintain complete secrecy over their plan. Their goal isn’t merely to rid Caldaria of pirates; they have much loftier ambitions. Anyone with too much knowledge must die.
Mendell struggles to unravel the mystery before he, too, becomes a casualty of The Caldarian Conflict. (Amazon)
The Caldarian Conflict is Mike Kalmbach’s debut novel, and a self-published one at that. I came across it when he announced its publication on Reddit, together with a free first chapter (PDF link) that piqued my interest. This is a very short novel, and Kalmbach makes the most out of it by always keeping a brisk pace and not getting bogged down by unimportant details. From the hooking beginning to the cliffhanger ending, the novel is a fast, alert and interesting string of plot twists, deception and adventure. With pirates.
Brother Mendell, the main character, is one of the best things about the book. Wise, kind and patient, he is the very image of what a clergyman should be. What makes him a great character though is that he is also cunning, relentless and has some pretty impressive powers due to being in favor with his gods. Clergymen in general and monks in particular are rarely the main characters of a story, so The Caldarian Conflict brings a fresh change to the fantasy scene through a character whose religion doesn’t get in the way of his flexibility in thinking and willingness to reconsider his moral values.
The Caldarian Conflict is a very smartly written novel. Kalmbach is very careful not to leave any plot holes uncovered, and time and time again I thought something has been pulled out of thin air, only to have everything explained in a very plausible manner later on. This is a very clever technique, a sort of subversion of Deus ex Machina, when a seemingly unlikely coincidence turns out to have been intentionally laid out by another character, making you bow your head in recognition of an intelligently avoided trope.
Although this is a self-published novel, there are remarkably few editing problems. Sure, there is the occasional repetition here and there, but it’s clear that Kalmbach made the effort of editing his book properly, I can’t remember finding a single typo or grammatical error.
If there’s one aspect of the novel I didn’t like, it’s the whole “conflict of the gods” thing. Instead of narrowing the scope of the book to brother Mendell’s investigation of Admiral Cain’s plans, it becomes clear pretty early on that this is actually a mirror of a far greater conflict, between the gods themselves. How many times have we heard that one before?
You might say that there’s nothing wrong with aiming high. Well, the way I see it, when human motivations are nothing more than the manifestation of one god or another’s plans, the humans in the story always come out as unwitting tools, and this takes a huge bite of their depth, character-wise. This is especially true when the issue is handled in a naive good-vs-evil, white-vs-black manner which, unfortunately, is the case here. You simply cannot have complex, interesting characters on one side and have them worship single-purpose, one-sided gods on the other, it’s a contradiction. The idea that anybody would worship gods that are not only evidently evil, but are actually named Destruction and Deception is a bit of a letdown. Fortunately, it’s one of the very few in this book, and it may not bother you as much as it bothers me.
The Caldarian Conflict (3.5/5) is a very enjoyable and intelligently written novel filled with interesting characters, plot twists and moral dilemmas, and a very good debut from an author I will keep my eyes on.