Windcatcher by A.J. Norfield

Windcatcher by A.J. NorfieldNorfield places the classic war story of a small squad trapped behind enemy lines in an interesting fantasy world, then mixes in his own version of dragons.

When an ancient relic is stolen from the Tiankong Empire, Aeterra’s long-term trading partner, it is politically expedient to have Aeterra recover it for them. Accompanied by a Tiankong monk, Raylan and his unit penetrate the territory of the Stone King. However, when they successfully catch up with the thieves, they discover the artefact is a dragon’s egg on the verge of hatching. Their attempts to find a safe route home are further complicated when they realise the artefact was taken at the order of one of the Stone King’s highest generals; a man who will use the full resources of his nation to recover it.

This novel is written in a medium-to-distant third person voice that switches between several characters. Although, this style will be familiar to—and potentially even preferred by—readers of classic fantasy, it results in a higher level of exposition than occurs in close third person or first person narratives, especially in the opening chapters, so might seem dry to some readers.

Where these transitions between character viewpoints occur within a chapter they are not marked by a clear break in the text; however, the first sentence of a new viewpoint gives a clear indication of the change. Further, each section features a significant chunk of events. As such, while some readers might experience an instant of uncertainty following a few of the shifts, the narrative feels layered rather than jumpy.

The plot is formed of three major threads: the unit’s attempts to reach safety, the issues caused by a newly hatched dragon, and the broader consequences of the plot by the Stone King and his generals. Norfield skilfully weaves these together, using each to both complicate and advance each of the others. This both allows lulls in one thread without losing overall tension and adds to the sense of actions having consequences beyond the immediate problem that underpins a plausible epic narrative.

This sense of tension and scale is further supported by the visceral nature of Norfield’s magic system. While the actual brutality occurs off page, so is abstract enough that it does not move this book into horror, the practice clearly requires a defiance of the usual order.

Raylan is a well-crafted primary protagonist. His background in sailing rather than soldiering provides a believable balance between accepting the need for process and not instinctively obeying the chain of command. This mix is further complicated by his squad leader also being his older brother, an immediately recognisable relationship of which Norfield takes full advantage.

Galirras, the dragon, is similarly well-written. Possessed of a mindset fitting for a flying lizard with no previous human contact, but also intelligent and mentally bonded to Raylan, his viewpoint is both alien enough to seem realistic and familiar enough to remain accessible.

High General Setra, main antagonist of the novel, is almost the stereotype of evil general; however, the nuances of his character are sufficient to make him still fell individual.

The supporting cast are a suitable combination of recognisable epic fantasy tropes and individual characteristics, making them interesting without drowning the epic sweep of the narrative.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel greatly. I recommend it to readers seeking fantasy with a world-affecting plot and interesting characters.

I received a free copy from the author with a request for a fair review.

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