David Gallway is a talented writer who, judging by Broken Chains, has a true ability to write gripping action scenes. From the opening chapter in which Stonecutter rises up and attacks his jailers, to the last scene of bloody battle, one can almost feel the blades and fists of those fighting (and dying). Well done, indeed.
And the primary characters are worthy of having a novel written around them. Kelvin, the giant warrior and Stonecutter (Darius) are true heroes, and one does care about their survival. The problem is that, very soon on, we know that they will survive. Not because they've earned it, but because the writer will create the circumstances necessary for their survival as needed. There is a scene in which the small band (now measuring six) led by Darius and Kelvin appear to be trapped and about to meet their doom. Suddenly, as if all were gifted by divine inspiration, they (all six) run at the stone of the mountain beside them and disappear into a "magic" door that appears there:
Darius leaned back as if to attack the beast, then cut quickly to the side, straight at the rock walls. He reached out with one hand, and dove for the surface of the rock.
This might have worked with more explanation, and/or more justification for both the epiphany that drops upon them (all six!) and the appearance of that door. But here it struck me as a rather blatant author's device. It is an unfortunate plot mistake, for now we suspect that, no matter what dangers creep up on these characters, they will survive as long as the author needs them. Well, we might know that anyway, but it's important that a character's survival in a novel arrive out of circumstances that appear "appropriate" within the fiction offered us. Survival should not appear to be more the result of the author's whim or plot need than the situation of the story itself. One or two other events in the novel feel similarly forced.
With a hiss the creature leapt for him.
The instant his hand met the stone of the wall, the stone shimmered blue in the shape of an arched doorway. They slid through the doorway and vanished into the darkness below.
There is another unfortunate choice made by Gallway in writing this novel. That is, the purpose for the main characters' "quest" is kept rather vague. There is much talk about prophecy and destiny and "The Return", but I found myself not fully feeling the "need" of any of it. Better if the purpose of the heroes' journey and suffering was more clearly defined, and decidedly more urgent.
Gallway is on solid ground when he steps away from the concepts of producing a sweeping fantasy "epic" -- when he instead is concentrating on the personal interaction between characters and is building upon his riveting scenes of action, of direct battle between hero and enemy. If his next novel focuses on these not inconsequential strengths, it may very well prove to be extremely successful.