Orphaned then shifted from foster home to foster home, Morlen has grown up an outsider, a position made worse by his exceptional competence as a hunter and forager. Only Nottifer, wizard-adviser to the King, treats him with any respect. When Morlen’s attempt to escape this life is thwarted by bullies, he is rescued by again Nottifer; but the wizard is acting out of more than simple friendship. Bearing the Goldenshard, a mystical artefact of last resort, Morlen must flee not just cruel youths, but a usurper and his army.
From the first scene, Murray reveals his world through people living their lives. While there are moments of exposition, they come as responses to questions and are delivered in the form of natural speech rather than historical lectures. Similarly, characters recalling the past do so in snippets triggered by events. This approach both keeps the story immediate, increasing tension, and gives the past a sense of legend, adding plausible depth to the world.
While the plot is based around classic tropes of fantasy: the orphan with a destiny; the ruler who turns to ancestral evil for power; knights who ride a different animal than a horse (in this instance, the giant eagle); Murray’s reliance on character over world-building both settles them firmly within the story and provides them the layer of nuance that features of the real world possess.
Where Murray’s deviation from classic fantasy might find less universal favour is in his use of certain American English constructions. Although there is no reason the denizens of a fantasy universe would favour British English, those readers who are accustomed to fantasy cast in a pseudo-archaic dialect might find the difference noticeable. However, this is – at worst – a minor disjunction, and in no way indicative of any flaw in the prose.
This novel is the first in a series, and as such leaves a number of matters unresolved. However, the suitably epic main arc is concluded in a plausible manner, allowing the book to stand on its own.
Morlen is a well-crafted protagonist, neither swift to accept his destiny and the competence that comes with it, nor given to overly doubting the evidence of his own eyes. The events of his childhood, and in particular his mistreatment at the hands of foster-parents and peers, have marked him, but not twisted his moral sense, making him a highly sympathetic character.
The supporting cast are equally shaped by the interaction of social roles rather than merely the plot; and thus display the disproportionate focus on minor and immediate matters that limits and distracts most denizens of the real world. However, Murray does not mire them in these matters, instead maintaining a balance between plausible complexity and larger-than-life escapism.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book. I recommend it to readers looking for an engaging and fast-paced fantasy.
I received a free copy from the author in exchange for a fair review.