Book Review: Champion Standing by Mark Gardner

ChampionStandingIt’s been a tough week this week, something all of us go through at one time or another. You can read more about how I cope with these kinds of weeks in the last creativity blog post. Maybe you have some other suggestions that can work a little better. Before we get to the contest tonight, I wanted to be sure to continue with our WOW 555 appreciation week. Don’t forget to share the links around where you can to help your fellow players out a bit.

Book Review: Champion Standing by Mark Gardner

Take a step back in time to a world of honor, battle, and intrigue. Mark takes us all the way back to the Han Dynasty as his main character, the disgraced Han warrior Liao, now a mercenary for the Kingdom of Kush, finds himself invited to the legendary Hainan Island Tournament. However, there is more than just Laio’s hope for redemption for himself and his entire clan at stake in this contest, though no one seems to be aware of the threat except those making it. While Laio and his allies are aware of political dangers for the hero, they don’t suspect the depth to which they run or the level of ambition behind them. The question is whether they will discover the plots on time to avert disaster.

What I liked about this book

I don’t read a lot of stories of this type, so that should be taken into account with regards to this review. What little I know of this history, though, it seems fairly genuine regarding the clothing, ceremony, lifestyles, and culture. That Mark is able to give this impression speaks to his talent at building his world. The story flows well from action to action, never allowing things to get too bogged down in the extensive ceremonial preparations that would accompany such a tournament, but still allowing for the breaks and downtime the characters would realistically need in order to perform as they do. The fight scenes are not tracked to too much detail, they are often reduced to something of a blur of motion rather than a blow by blow account which I tend to appreciate. I also appreciate that even though this is a world of men, Mark includes a number of women in the action in one form or another, reflecting a more realistic understanding of how things might have been.

What was difficult about this book

As much as I liked the main character’s personality in Mark’s other book, Nala’s Story, I had a difficult time getting into this one. There didn’t seem to be much character in Laio to grab onto, especially at the beginning when it’s most important. It was hard to care about the loss of honor in his clan or for himself nor was it easy to be excited about his invitation to the contest. We get a sense of who he is and the traditions and events that are important to his culture, which is quite interesting, but it’s told from a detached perspective, more like a history story than a trip into a different world. We see the action taking place and get some of the thoughts of the characters, but we can’t feel it.

There’s also a demonstrated tendency for the story to jump from one group of people to another without a clear sense of who the people are or why they’re important. This was quite confusing at the beginning, but got a little easier to follow later on. Like the main character, though, while their motivations were clear enough, it was hard to care about their goals or to believe they would be successful. Again, this became less of a problem as I continued to read, but it should be mentioned.


Mark Gardner has done an excellent job creating an ancient world, preserving the customs and traditions of the past while creating an entirely unique story. His character has a lot to prove and even more to overcome, whether he knows it or not. The action is nearly constant without being tiring or always about battle. While there is a lot of wisdom included within the pages, it’s difficult to see a lot of growth in the characters partially because of the way in which the story is told. It may simply be an element of the genre that I am not familiar with, but I would have liked to have been shown more and told less. Overall, I’ll give this one 3 stars, but with the caveat that this isn’t my usual reading and I may be judging it against inappropriate standards.

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