This anthology collects Morrese’s The Warden Threat and The Warden War. With tongue firmly in cheek, this book begins as the traditional tale of a young man saving the kingdom from an evil plot then begins to reveal the apparent staples of the genre are merely a veneer on more unusual events.
Prince Donald of Westgrove is a third son. Lacking the formal role of his elder brothers and still viewed as a child by his mother, he dreams of finding an adventure like those in the novels he reads. The combination of reasonable misunderstandings and unreasonable confidence while on a routine tour of his father’s lands, gift him a unique perspective on the escalating tensions between Westgrove and its neighbours. When no-one in authority will listen, he embraces the opportunity to be a hero; but real life is not quite like a story.
The plot is a combination of solid fantasy tropes, science-fiction explanations of the fantastical, and satire. This provides both an enjoyable fantasy experience and a fresh perspective on the usual medieval fantasy fare.
Morrese’s revelation that apparent magic is actually advanced technology, is well handled, providing a plausible explanation for events that have already happened without making the key mystery, that of the Warden of Mystical Defiance, and less bathetic as a potential mechanical rather than mystical threat.
However, the attempts at satirising fantasy tropes sometimes take precedence over the story, especially during the first half of The Warden Threat. While none of the metahumour is, read individually, trite or heavy-handed, the density of asides about the plot and characters might leave a reader wishing Morrese spent a little less time explaining fantasy can be absurd and a little more time letting the reader see the humour for themselves.
Prince Donald is a well-realised lead protagonist. Morrese successfully charts his growth from naïve youth to actual hero without abandoning the lightness of character that draws the reader to him in the beginning.
The other protagonists are similarly detailed, combining an initial appearance of a stock character from fantasy with a series of plausible quirks.
Unfortunately, Morrese does slightly undermine the air of uniqueness by giving many characters an obsession with food. The first character who spends time considering which option to have in an inn, seems a trait. The second character focusing on food begins to weaken the flow of some sections. The third raises the – sadly disappointed – expectation that food will turn out to be a plot issue later.
I enjoyed this anthology. I recommend it to readers looking for an easy fantasy tale that does not take itself seriously.