On the base surface, “A Heretics Guide to Homecoming” is about a young scholar who decides that he wants to experience the world first hand rather than learn about it from books in a library. He wants his difficult questions answered, and he can’t do that from his home country where words have literal weight, and some things are too dangerous to speak aloud. Ronoah embarks on a journey that takes him across the world and expands his horizons, all while he battles an all too real and crippling anxiety. But that is such a simplistic view of what this literary work of fantasy is about. It really is a work of art first and foremost, with lite fantasy elements mainly to add whimsy and wonder. The writing was raw and beautiful, and the metaphors and stories within stories was marvelous. But while it’s an absolutely beautiful read, it is not an exciting one.
Tristen’s writing is a treat. Full of metaphors and prose, the way she captures Ronoah’s anxiety and his inner monologue is presented excellently. I found my chest tightening along with our main character when he was struggling because his emotions and how they are presented to the reader are so spot on for anxiety and crippling perfectionism. I also enjoyed the little stories within a story that are aimed at helping Ronoah grow and discover more about himself, and that most of the nasty things he believes about himself are just in his head. I loved that this soft boy struggled, and while he maybe whined a bit, he didn’t give up. Despite his fear, he kept driving forward and trying, and trying, and trying again and I loved seeing that! It was such a delight to have a male MC that wasn’t this macho caricature of a person, too. Who didn’t seek to destroy or battle anyone, but who wanted to sit and learn, observe with kindness and tenderness for all he met. I loved the contrast that Reilin provided against Ronoah. His confidence, his excellence in almost everything he tries. How he slowly, meticulously, teases the greatness out of Ronoah. He’s a fun character, his banter witty and sarcastic, and he provided a perfect foil to Ronoah’s sweetness.
But, in terms of a fantasy, you won’t find much of that here. You get flavors with Ronoah’s godling and hints of it with the world in regards to the Shattering and an extinct race of beings who had once enslaved humanity. The most fantasy you get is with one of the characters that Ronoah meets along the way (I won’t say who specifically). This character only ever gets tangentially explained in terms of WHAT they are; we know more of what they are NOT by the end. But the description and how they change, and what they can do is lovely, I just wish I didn’t feel as if I hD missed something along the way? I rather liked just the flavors of fantasy strewn about the novel, but if you are expecting more, or just glorious displays of magic, you won’t find that here so go into this story knowing that.
This book is exceedingly hard for me to review, let alone rate. I really did enjoy the book, its overall story and especially the writing style. A novel of mainly purple prose and literary tones isn’t for everyone, but I loved it. But the book was… slow. The synopsis says it’s a slow burn travelogue and it’s 100% correct on that score, but I wouldn’t even say this was a burn at all. There was no real excitement, barely, if any, danger. The stakes for Ronoah are all very, very personal and internal. This is all about a character’s personal growth and not a ton else. Which is fine! But it meant I could put the book down and not feel a burning need to go back to it, to know what happens next. The mild mystery tugged me back occasionally, but there was never that feeling of “Oh my lord I have to read the next chapter to find out what happens!” That may be the hallmark of literary fiction though, which can, at times, clash with what you expect in fantasy which is why I’m settling on 4 stars, as this is, ultimately, an incomplete journey by the end. That being said, I can’t wait for the next book and would highly recommend this to patient readers, readers who love prose filled writing, and literary fiction! And thanks to the author for sending me a copy for an honest review.
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