Jewel of the Endless Erg by John Bierce – Review
By: Preston Simmons | Written: 20 July 2021
Jewel of the Endless Erg, book 2 in the Mage Errant series by John Bierce, is an improvement in all ways to its predecessor. Better writing, expanded character insights, and a more focused plot make this a worthy addition to the series.
Here Be Dragons
The story of the book begins shortly after Into the Labyrinth ends. Summer vacation has begun, and Hugh and his friends, along with their mentor, Alustin, head off to Theras Tel for some training. To get there, they must travel on the sandship, The Moonless Owl, where they will meet the newest member of their friend group, Avah. Once at Theras Tel, the group quickly gets swept up in a massive conspiracy involving cultists, sandstorms, and the city’s queen, a giant 200 feet long dragon, Indris.
The worldbuilding in this book was great. There were hints of a greater world in the first book, but it was mainly confined to Skyhold, the library, and partially the labyrinth. In this book, all of that changes. Into the Labyrinth was a character-focused book. Its main purpose was to introduce the readers to Hugh, his friends, and Alustin. Jewel of the Endless Erg, however, was a world-building book. Its main purpose was to show that the world of Mage Errant is much bigger than just Skyhold.
The City of Theras Tel
At the front and center of the expanded world-building is the city of Theras Tel. Here the reader learned more about religions, politics, and the different power structures in the Mage Errant world. One particular religion is the Invisible cult, which amusingly is one of the most unbelievable cults in the story’s context. They basically believe that an invisible force is watching over everything and is the cause for all of creation. To the people of Mage Errant, that cult is the craziest, considering a 200 feet dragon is not only visible but has proven time and again how powerful she is. So to them, of course, the dragon queen is the only being worth worshipping.
Another fun aspect of Theras Tel is the culture of the people. Imagine a culture where Mardi Gras happens every month. Whenever a sandstorm threatens to level the city and Indris Stormbreaker stops it, the city breaks out into festival mode. They dance, they sing, they drink, and they party hard. If you have ever seen Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, think back to Topsy Turvy. It’s a cool bit of world-building that brings the story to life.
Different Perspectives in Jewel of the Endless Erg
Another reason why this book is a bit better than its predecessor is because Hugh is not the only perspective in the book. Instead, the reader gets additional story insight through Sabae, Talia, Godrick, and Alustin’s POV. This was a great decision on Bierce’s part. I already liked the characters, as you probably could tell from my review of the last book.
Seeing certain events from their perspective helped me get to know those characters better than before. It also reinforced that I only had Hugh’s POV in the previous book, which skewed my own perspective on certain characters. Getting to read the other characters’ perspectives made me completely reevaluate my opinion on some of them.
Alustin is the biggest example of this. Before, I wrote him off as an Eithan Arelius-lite type character from the Cradle series. In reality, that’s not fair at all. He definitely has eccentricities, but he’s much more than just that. In fact, Alustin may be the most interesting character in the whole series. As of right now, he may be my favorite.
Sabae is another character we got to see much more of. If anything, I would consider this book more her book than Hugh’s. I was also right about Godrick as a character. There was more to him than met the eye. Unfortunately, it was less impactful than I would have hoped, but it was something that nonetheless made his character more interesting. Sadly, Talia had the least amount of character development in the book. She acted as the comic relief character, which in my opinion, is a step back from the role she played in the previous book. It was disappointing because I really like Talia and hoped to see more of her.
A key component of why we saw less of Talia could be the new character introduced into the group, Avah.
Hugh and Avah
I like romance in my books. Usually, I think they add to the book more so than they detract. Some examples of good romance in fantasy books would be Vin and Elend in the Mistborn series. That was a good, believable romance. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the romance between Avah and Hugh.
Avah, as a character, was flat and boring. Her most important character trait is that she is beautiful. Also, since she had been to Theras Tel before, she acts as a guide to the other characters for getting around the city. Other than that, there is not much to her. Of course, Hugh falls in love with her at first sight. Unfortunately for Hugh’s development, a good portion of the book was dedicated to him focusing on Avah.
The progress he made in the book was all to impress Avah. He wanted to get stronger because Avah might think better of him. He wanted to be more outgoing because Avah would like it. To me, depressed Hugh from Into the Labyrinth was more interesting to read about than love-struck Hugh. Seeing the other character’s reactions to the romance was fun to read, especially Talia’s.
I will admit, the quick pace and surface-level relationship between the two could be intentional. Multiple characters comment on how shallow it seems and how no one (except Hugh) thinks the relationship will last. This could all lead to some more good development for him in a later book. First heartbreak? First breakup? Those are both events that could cause him to spiral, which would lead to a more interesting story for the readers.
Overall Impressions of Jewel of the Endless Erg
Overall, the book was an improvement on Into the Labyrinth, and I enjoyed it. The writing was clearer while also being more expansive. The humor was more on point, especially Talia’s, though the humor was slightly detrimental for her as a character. Alustin and Sabae were the book’s highlights, with Alustin becoming one of my favorite characters altogether in the series.
The romance fell flat for me, feeling rather shallow and rushed. Admittedly, this could be intentional, but it just didn’t work for me for this book.
That said, I am interested in seeing where the story goes, and I suspect I will enjoy the next book even more than this one.
Jewel of the Endless Erg by John Bierce