Code of the Communer only had four ratings on Goodreads when I got to it, but it was a semifinalist in this year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, and a couple of the folks at The Fantasy Hive gave absolutely glowing reviews before eventually naming it the runner-up of their batch. So I gave Kai Greenwood’s debut a shot, and I’m glad I did.
Code of the Communer follows Caida, who has come into a position as the communer (a mystic of sorts) of her nomadic Wildwood tribe following the death of her mother. Their land is being invaded by vicious Settlers, and Caida, her brother, and her tribe are forced to seek a new home in the lost land of Maerida, former home of the mythical giants, the Ferliath.
This is an exploration book, mostly taking place on an uncharted coastline on the edge of a forest full of unknown dangers, both natural and supernatural. The writing flowed effortlessly and set a wonderfully creepy atmosphere that made it hard to stop reading. The mythology of the world isn’t all delivered upfront, but slowly revealed as the tribe happens upon pieces of the former society, which really builds the tension and atmosphere during exploration of lands that are just as much a mystery to the reader as they are to the characters.
While the atmosphere and worldbuilding are clear strengths, the characters can be a little bit hit-and-miss. It’s easy to understand Caida’s hopes and fears, but it’s difficult to understand some of her conflicts with her brother Fingle, our second perspective character, who intensely believes tales about the Ferliath that Caida dismisses as superstition. From the beginning, this as the feel of an old argument, but it always stays on the surface, despite the feeling that it could’ve resolved if they had actually had a real discussion. Fingle is definitely a bit on the immature side, so perhaps discussions just break down, but even seeing those breakdowns would’ve helped understand the character relationships. As it stands, the disconnect seems a bit jarring for a pair of siblings with a generally close relationship. Additionally, the side characters and the third perspective character—a communer from another tribe—feel a little bit underdeveloped.
While the writing was generally smooth and polished, there are a couple awkward transitions, where it takes a few paragraphs to realize there has been a perspective change or a time jump. And there are a few instances of jarring vocabulary—I don’t expect an author to avoid terms that have come about in the last couple centuries or anything (the use of “okay,” for instance, doesn’t faze me a bit), but it’s weird to see nomads who see city-dwellers as enemies using the word “civilized” as a compliment. These are minor complaints that didn’t really hurt my overall enjoyment of a book that generally felt quite professional, but they broke my immersion a couple times.
On the whole, it was refreshing to read about nomads who didn’t leave in a desert, and the atmosphere and exploration storyline made this a really good read. I would’ve felt a little more connected to the characters with some more exploration of their relationships, but that didn’t stop me from staying up way too late finishing this one.
Recommended if you like: exploration, hunter/gatherer perspective, creepy forests.
Overall rating: 14 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.