Rating: 4 stars
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Grand Master Farrell, the Prince of Haven, is visited by an avatar of his God, Honorus, the first of the Gods. The giant white eagle tells Farrell that a messenger in dire need of his help approaches the Kingdom. The true entity behind this messenger’s request? None other than Honorus’ sister god, Lenore. who is sending her messenger directly to Farrell. Her messenger is the unicorn Nerti and it is the legendary beings, the Muchari, who are engaged in a losing fight against the evil wizard Meglar and Farrell is their only hope. But the Gods also tell Farrell that his true mate is among those under siege and he must hurry or all will be lost.
Traveling on the back of the unicorn, Farrell enters the battle and meets the mighty immortal Muchari warrior Misceral, the one the Gods have said is his mate. Misceral too has been informed that Farrell is his one true love, something his father, the lord of the Muchari, finds distasteful. But their foretold bond must take a backseat to the battle at hand. For the evil wizard Meglar is determined to capture all the Muchari and turn them into soldiers of evil that will help him conquer the world.
There is only one wizard left in the world powerful enough to fight back against the evil Meglar, and that is Farrell, the Last Grand Master. But Farrell is hiding a powerful secret from all of those around him, one that will either help him succeed in defeating Meglar once and for all or bring about the ruin of everyone and everything he loves.
It is the action, the wild magic wielding military combat/battles sections of this book that really garnered the 4-star rating. From the opening page, Andrew Q. Gordon propels the reader along with Farrell into battle and brings it to life with vivid descriptions and a concisely worded narrative that kept me on the edge of my seat, thrilling at each new magical encounter. The author moves us quickly through each hard fought engagement, delighting us with inventive uses of magic by our young resolute wizard, making us gasp with each near escape from death and destruction, and marvel at the sights and sounds Farrell is encountering during his ferocious battle of the magic wands. There are humongous raptors, unicorns of both sexes who are bonded to our heroes, aged crones, and more magical explosions than in a Die Hard movie. How I loved this part of The Last Grand Master, cue “Wild Thing.”
During this opening segment of the novel, I also found I liked the manner in which we meet and watch Farrell handle a variety of situations, all stressful and fraught with danger. But, and here is the first quibble, the reader is left wondering about half the time about Farrell’s world and what has happened to it for it to get in such a state. I am not a fan of those books where you must slog through glossary pages of world building minutiae before the story even starts, preferring the author to frame it out during the narrative. But here some of the most basic of exposition seems to be missing and it hurts the reader’s connection to the story. I had to read Dreamspinner Press’ blurb to figure out about the “war that shook the earth,” and the Six gods of Nendor, otherwise I would have been clueless as to some of the most basic facts of this story.
My second quibble would be the characterizations. I loved the Farrell we first meet, The confident, brave young wizard sure of his powers and his ability to see his mission through to the end. But that persona wavers like the image in a fun house mirror throughout the story. Sometimes he is so unsure of himself he flees down hallways or misjudges conversations, and while that may make another character more vulnerable and real, here the manner in which these character fluctuations happen to Farrell just serve to bemuse the reader and make us wonder what happened to the young man we fell in love with at the beginning of the story. Each time he turns a corridor in the castle, it seems that we see yet another Farrell and such uneven character building just drags the story and the rating down with it. Even his soulmate, the legendary immortal Misceral, just comes across as the sweet boy down the hall. Honestly, there is not much about him to make us believe in either their bond or his mythic attributes. In fact, most of the characters we meet, while not exactly one dimensional, have a certain blandness about them that just doesn’t measure up to the sensational descriptions of battles, and cities under siege, and magical enchantments gone awry. That is where this author and this novel excels.
Gordon’s ability to make us believe in this world, even populated with less than notable characters, elevates this fantasy story up from the mundane and into the marvelous. Even his small touches, such as the endless pockets on Farrell’s clothing where Farrell can retrieve his sword or anything else for that matter. I want those. Redesigning your quarters with a flick of a wand instead of months of renovations? Yep, want that too. I loved the spells and artifacts used for conjuring, the large white eagles and peregrine falcons. When this story goes to battle, then it really soars along with the unicorns with all the energy and magical flare one could hope for (and then sags when the participants are at rest). So even with all the unevenness I see within, this book still rates 4 stars because when it gets going, it is great and for now that is enough for me.
Cover art by Paul Richmond. It really suits the book, great job.