For me, James Erich had a lot to live up to in view of how much I loved his debut novel, but he has more than equaled it with his latest book, the first in a trilogy. As someone who is grounded very much in reality, the imagination that goes into building a fantasy world always amazes me, and this is a prime example. Not only do we have a compelling story that grabbed me from the opening sentence, the author has created an entire civilization, complete with laws, religion, vivid scenery, and, most impressive of all, its own languages.
Koreh and Sael occupy different worlds. Koreh is a peasant, homeless and without family, whose many hardships have given him a tough outlook on life and the ability to fend for himself, while Sale, the pampered younger son of the emperor’s regent, is training to be a mage. Koreh has little interest in the war brewing between the emperor and Sael’s father, Vek Worlen, while Sael knows nothing of what it is to be poor. Yet, when Koreh saves Sael from the men sent on the emperor’s orders to assassinate him, the two find themselves unlikely and somewhat reluctant allies.
With Koreh acting as guide, he and Sael navigate landscapes fraught with difficulty and hidden dangers. It’s a race against time to reach the vek’s keep ahead of the emperor’s forces, and before the impending battle between the Gods, something Koreh’s dreams warn him is approaching. . Given the treacherous nature of their situation, it’s inevitable Koreh and Sale should grow closer. Their initial animosity melts, and, so gradually that they’re scarcely aware of what’s happening, they forge a bond that is deep and strong and undeniable. But with war looming, and the vast difference in their social status, it seems unlikely their newfound love can survive.
Being already familiar with this author’s work, the skilful story-telling and well-drawn characters were no more than I’ve come to expect from him. What truly surprised and delighted me about this novel, however, was the humor. Koreh and Sael are such complete opposites, in temperament as well as background, and their frequent verbal sparring matches had me laughing out loud. The contrast in their personalities also lent an extra dimension to the romance, and I found it incredibly touching to watch them lay aside their antagonism and come together.
If you enjoy young adult fantasy that balances magic and adventure with a powerful romance and a healthy dose of humor, this book will almost certainly appeal to you.