Red Leaves and the Living Token - Benjamin David Burrell
I won this in a First Reads Giveaway.

I liked this book. I enjoyed it. The story is intriguing, the characters are dynamic, and the world is creative. I'm interested to see where this series is going. The characters are indeed very well done and finding out more information as the story went on really helped with understanding and caring about the characters. Switching perspectives kept the suspense and tension up. The story might follow general over-arching guidelines in the fantasy genre but it didn't drag anything out. It moved much quicker than usual and got to the action, to the point, in good time. It twisted a couple things on its head. I really like how that worked out. I didn't really expect what was coming, though looking back I should have seen it. I can't really say you will be surprised by the turn of events since I wasn't trying to figure out what would happen next; I was focused on trying to picture what was going on in the scene now. This is a good book and doesn't hold to the typical 'drag everything out and take forever building' style. Funnily enough, I wish there was a bit more of the building going on though. I'm going to put the next book on my to-read list when it is listed and am looking forward to reading it. Yet it felt like I was missing something. Something important. It's a good solid book yet I wasn't fully engaged. I could easily put the book down and walk away. I plan on reading more of the series yet I don't have a burning need to continue. I do recommend this book though to fantasy readers. I'm not sure what my problem is or why this book feels average to me exactly, but I don't want that to scare away people from reading this book. I'm just be trying to be honest and thorough.

I've been trying to figure out what is keeping this book from being good to being great. I have thoughts on that later, but indeed it might just be me. I don't have anything bad to say about the book or faults. It's bugging me because really I should be love this book. It's what I look for, what I want but I'm not satisfied. I should be and it's irritating to not understand why I'm feeling this way. I really don't have any problem with this book, besides minor things regarding the cover and map. So while I'm giving this book 3 stars, it's entirely possible I'm just in a funk and that my inability to become fully immersed in this book's world might be my own issue. I'm thinking it's because I had such a hard time visualizing the story and building mental pictures throughout the entire book, though it did get easier at the end. Without being able to build a proper picture or having to correct my ideas on how things looked often was distracting for me.

Glossary & Map:

The glossary in the back was immensely helpful. Props for including that after other reviewers suggested it! It's a small thing but it makes a big difference It makes it easier to find your place if you get confused or lost. I think making the map and labels on the map bigger would have made the map more useful. As it was in my copy, I couldn't tell anything about the left side of Petra, it was colored so dark. I'm grateful a map was included though, it helped me quite a bit in it's current form.


Am I the only one having trouble finding the bird in the token pictures online or on covers? The bird is suppose to wrap around the tree but I don't see it. This might be on purpose but it's puzzling to me. I keep trying to find it.

For covers, my copy of the book as the cover for the Kindle addition. The size of Raj's head confuses me greatly. At least, I'm guessing it's Raj's head by his son, Emet, and Moslin. There's red and black on this character in both covers, the characters are just such different sizes so that's part of why I'm guessing that it's Raj.

Sizes and proportions was hard for me to get a grip on during the whole book. Mostly it's things like massively tall, taller than the average Zo, smaller than the average Petra is how things are described. But how am I suppose to understand that when I don't know the averages? When there's no base to start from? I like the cover with the black and the picture in the circle. The clothes have changed but now I see what Raj was wearing at least. Clothes in this world remain a mystery to me. Besides the armor, weapons and the rare robe of new mysterious important people, I have no idea what anyone was wearing. My book cover show the Petra as just humanoid rock beings with no clothes but nothing was mentioned in the book. I mean with all the running, action, and fighting I'd wish there were descriptions of all the clothes being torn to shreds. Just general "my sleeve ripped" kind of thing. Maybe I'm not remembering correctly, but it feels like these little, helpful details were missing.

My Missing Piece? Visualization & Culture:

I had issues with visualizing through out the whole book. It was a stuggle to build a complete mental picture with the little but vivid information given. What I did come up with was often re-edited due to new information given later, especially with proportions. I still had to correct my visual image that the characters weren't human through to the end of the book.

Human is the default assumption so it's a massive task for an author to establish their own races of creatures. There's plenty here that shows the work Mr. Burrell has put into this endeavor. The races are indeed distinct and creative. However, after the first introduction to the races the reminders of the differences were sparse until half the book was over. Once the Botans started using their vines, Petrans started acting like boulders and the Zo...Well, the only thing remarkable about the Zo were the select Zo who had special armor and weapons. Mentions of their green skin and long snouts was about it for them. Looking back after finishing the book, it certainly seems like there's more references to their differences that I noticed. Yet why did I have such a problem with keeping them distinct in my mind? It might have been just the struggle against the human assumption but I think it's more than that.

This is three completely different and new races. There's no history like when someone uses elves or dwarves. Sure, you can make those races your own but they've been around awhile. Everyone has ideas, thoughts and images that come to mind when someone says "Elves", or "Dwarves". Zo, Petra and Botans though are a complete blank slate. In this book there was hardly any history, background or nitty gritty information. What we learn is through the current characters due to the plot and clearly we're kept in the dark for suspense. With a cast of characters from three new races in a whole new land with no clue as to how this all came to be, or how it works left me feeling adrift. There's no anchorage.

There's horse and carriages, yet seemingly state of the art hospitals. There's a Zo senate, and a pope Botan. There's no description of clothes so we can't gauge time period from that. There's no talk of food or music or paintings or TV. There's no culture. Culture is such a huge part of who someone is yet there's little to nothing to go on here. I think that's what I'm missing here, that anchorage, that dimension to the characters. After all, nothing happens in a vacuum. It's just the focus in this book is so narrow to the current events, yet without context it feels...incomplete to me. I like details, little detail, background, and history. It helps me get into and understand the characters and story more.

Even just bring up current styles and such would have been a nice detail for me. I think as the series progresses I'm going to get a better big full picture. I know the past wasn't clarified to keep the current story rolling with suspense, which is why I think I won't have such a problem in the next books. Once I get more information I'm hopeful I won't feel so disconnected from this world. It's not that it's too different or new for me to handle, I just don't have much to grasp onto. It just feels like there's something missing from making this world feel solid to me. My guess it's this absent culture and details that I'm needing here.

Though this is my problem with the first book, I believe it's going to get better as the series goes on. With continuing I will get more information on the past as things unfold and every little detail is going to help me more. This is quite possibly just growing pains for a first book in the series, which is known for having problems with lack of world building or progression. There's no problem with progression in the Red Leaves story at all.

Again, I want to stress this, it could just be me. It could be just the kind of reader I am or how I'm feeling lately. I know I've repeated this again and again. I'm doing this because I don't want to scare people away from reading this book. It is good. I'm just trying to be detailed. I'm working this out for myself, keeping a record of how I felt about the book and trying to explain why I only gave 3 stars. It's not a slight against the author. It sounds like a slight against the book and it's indeed the reason I only gave 3 stars but I hate that I'm giving an average rating. It's an average good book to me and I want to explain why I feel this way because I want to like this book so much. I want to give more stars, yet I can't.

I hope that all makes sense.

Quotes & Notes

pg. 53 We meet the pure wild unbound Zo who is completely hairless with bare skin. Why are bound Zo so hairy then?

pg. 55 Why feed a cat Manea? So the cat can be trained? Or is it bound to this form and really a house cat or a mouse normally? What the hell is Manea?

pg. 159 How is Rinacht able to see the path and the soldiers? He couldn't before. Valence and his friends couldn't see it, just follow the school's Head Master. Rather convient how they can see it when they need to and not see it for the story. Unless there's a special secret I'm missing. I mean isn't the whole point that only the chosen one holding the Token could see the paths? This makes more sense later with the forest and bug paths showing the way for everyone but I was completely confused at the time.

pg. 206 Raj meets Sinesh again, calls her "Bedic's granddaughter" and "Moslin's daughter". However, when Raj first meets Bedic and Sinesh (pg. 70) nothing is said regarding who's her mother. Bedic slips in conversation saying "After Moslin lost her oldest daughter..." So there's a passing reference that Moslin has or had another daughter but we don't know if Sinesh is hers. We don't know if Bedic had other children or not. Futhermore, why and how the fuck could Moslin just up and leave her only daughter behind? Without a word? That's the main reason I didn't think Sinesh was Moslin's daughter at first. She clearly is but it was assumed and listed in the back of the book. I just feel like this important abandoning her only daughter is more of an issue that wasn't dealt with. Sinesh doesn't even seemed phased by her missing mother at all. She only gets distressed when she reunites with Moslin. Sinesh, though, is easily my favorite character. Reminds me of my daughter so, so much. Emet is a distant second with his father, Raj while Valance and Bedic are mysterious and climbing up my list. I can't deny that the characters were done very well.