Maalstrom, like many fantasy books, combines a sense of ancient culture (in this case there's a sense of reading about Roman politics) with descriptions of other worlds. The danger that some books such as this face is that the new world the author has created is so replete with the new and unusual that readers have difficulty relating to anything in that world. Readers may find themselves lost in trying to understand just what is being said at times. Sentences such as the following may just leave readers scratching their heads:
"All of this for the skin of a new-born vok stained with the juice of weedwort. Too fantastic, eh Sruk?"
There's nothing wrong with voks or weedworts, but the reader should be given time to absorb descriptions of new fauna and new plants. There are just too many new things to keep track of in Maalstrom and, in some cases, they get in the way of the story rather than enhancing it.
And the number of characters presents the same problem. There are Sruk Lurenmurg and Sir Flores, there is Flores' son, Mesret. There are Numsenjus and Soorkral, the Eunuch Lord of Ven, and there's Malag, the warrior. There's Turlicum and Sendas and Pan and Tem, there's Sedrech-Nurlemnev and Smil and more. One gets lost amidst the crowd. The overall plot of political intrigue is reminiscent of the days of the Roman Empire. Readers, however, will find little reason to root for one archrival over another. There's no sense that Flores' victory over Sruk would be beneficial to anyone other than Flores. The author has made the decision to not offer any exposition that would allow clearer comprehension of the intrigue. He instead just throws readers into the midst of it as if they had grown up on the planet Maalstrom and already know what is happening there. This can work in some novels but here it doesn't. Some exposition at the beginning of Maalstrom would have been most welcome. The plot here is just too complex, containing too many characters and too many various groups and clans, to not offer the reader some clearly defined explanation of what is behind the events we are expected to understand.
There is some energy, some excitement generated in several chapters such as "The Enigma," in which Flores appears to save the gila, Amina. Here Glenn Roberts succeeds in getting our interest. At last we are away from the political intrigue and down to some real action, although the scene is not without its own problem: Flores seems to appear in this chapter for no other reason than to save Amina, yet at the same time is a bit surprised by her presence.
Maalstrom could use some paring down, and have been aided by the elimination of some unnecessary characters and complexity. As it is, it will be off-putting to many. But die-hard readers of other-world fantasy such as this might be willing to give the book the attention and study required to fully comprehend it. Maalstrom ends with enough of a cliff-hanger that readers appreciative of this first volume might want to pick up its sequel, The Selk King.