Orphaned by his parents when he was still very young, Danais has grown up living a peasant’s life laboring on his uncle’s vast farm. Despite his heritage as an Atorathinian, he is what they call silent—meaning he demonstrates no magical abilities nor any of the skills like tracking or architecture that local legend attributes to being gifts from the gods. Yet Danais yearns to be more than a mere peasant.
Everything changes one day when Danais visits to his favorite bakery. With the help of the kindly proprietor, Danais endures the usual disparagement against his lowly status, escapes an elitist patron, and takes refuge on the patio. There, he encounters another wealthy patron, but rather than inflicting more abuse, the so-called “Richie” invites Danais to sing at his son’s name-day celebration. Unable to refuse an offer sweetened by gifts of expensive wine, Danais accepts. Much to his surprise, he discovers a striking man named Leo.
Leo is the adopted son of a wealthy magician. Found as a child abandoned in the forest—as is common for silent parents of magical children—Leo’s deepest desire is to uncover the mystery that shrouds his origins. The sense of abandonment torments him with dark thoughts and drives him to make excessive use of dark magic. Yet meeting Danais somehow soothes his aching heart and Leo pursues him with fervor. Ignoring the jokes about falling for a near child of 18, setting aside his previously uninformed opinion of peasants, and sharing the emotional burden of his unknowable origins, Leo gets close to Danais. And similarly, Danais learns to overcome his prejudice against the wealthy and against magicians.
Yet theirs is not a simple love story. While neither Danais nor Leo knows of their birth parents, their budding relationship reveals their own adopted families and friends are not all that they seem. Just as Danais has helped Leo cope with his deep-seated sorrow, Leo has helped Danais mature into a man. Along with these changes come the revelations that they are not merely a thrown-away magician and a lowly peasant…they just might be destined to save their home country, and there are forces working day and night to stop them dead in their tracks.
Based on the blurb for this book, and composing this summary, this story promised to be a sweeping fantasy epic. Indeed, when I read the prologue, I was transported to another world starring a hero at the tail end of his journey—a mission that took him to the very place where the gods themselves lived, enduring broken bones and a tough winter to save his mother from a villainous magician. The tone was grandiose in the best of ways and the description was detailed without being laboriously lengthy. This had started out being a not-to-shabby pic for my second Reading Challenge Month read: Self Published Book Week. On top of that, I haven’t read anything by this author (to my knowledge) and I thought the cover was pretty.
This little prologue featured a human who became a god and it is that story that formed what serves as the creation myth for Danais and Leo’s world. The first true chapter of the book starts in “present day” as far as our two MCs are concerned and it begins well enough. I certainly felt like the quality of writing dropped off a bit, but I was willing to go along with it given the drastically different periods the prologue and the main story are supposed to be covering. Both Danais and Leo get perfunctory introductory chapters that establish their characters and I appreciated that they are both imperfect. Danais is preoccupied with fantasies of a grand life and Leo is bedding anything that moves.
From the outset, this story is portrayed as a hero’s journey. With every chapter and every development, the author attempts to cram as much suspense into the prose as possible. The concepts were evident: Danais and Leo are not who they think they are, the people both MCs call friend and family lead double lives, the very world is in danger because of an evil magician called the Tyrant, Danais and Leo are somehow involved in stopping the Tyrant. For all that I can name these plot devices, the author completely fails to incorporate them consistently into the story. This is problematic when every major plot device, apart from the love story, reads like incoherent word salad.
Bear with me, this is a lengthy example about Leo’s particular brand of magic, taken from different parts of one chunk of the same chapter:
“Did I show you what he made me?” Danais ran to his room and back before giving his uncle time to process the question. Then he handed him the orb.
“Wow. Now this is exceptional. Someone’s really trying to impress you.”
“It’s a blood moon, he said.[… w]as this blood magic?” Danais noticed his uncle was taking his time to respond. Maybe he had asked the wrong question.
“Isn’t blood magic supposed to be bad? […] I need to know, uncle. Should I keep a gift made with dark magic? Is it a bad omen? Should I be concerned? And if I’m going to spend my time with [Leo], is it necessary for me to know what type of magic he uses?”
“It’s called dark magic because of the dark demeanor of the magician. Does it mean the wizard is bad? No more than those who don’t practice it are good. You are either good or bad[,” uncle Torak said. …I]t’s very dangerous magic, but it’s complicated.”
“Well, it’s not often done without provocation. It can be, but usually they’re spontaneous spells. The circumstances force them to do it, so it’s very hard to say a magician is being unjust when they perform this type of magic, because it’s also never pre-thought.”
The brackets may make this excerpt hard to read where I added the names, but trust me when I say I often found myself back tracking through dialogue because there would be third parties randomly introduced mid-conversation and after the cursory “said so-and-so” there were no speech markers.
As for the content of this blood magic scene, I found it problematic because (1) this is the first time we hear anything about Leo being a “dark” magician, (2) this is the first mention of any orb despite Leo and Danais spending several scenes together by this point, (3) the part about dark magic not necessarily making a wizard/magician evil isn’t clearly written so it sounds like uncle Torak is contradicting his own message that dark magic isn’t evil magic unless the person DOING the magic is doing it for evil purposes, (4) continuity wise, this is one of a few flip-flops about whether or not to call magicians “magicians” or “wizards” (which to me, just reads like sloppy editing when 98% of all other references are *magician*, the other 1% were Danais’ inner monologue making a flippant comment about not knowing if Leo should be called a “magician” or a “wizard” or something else).
Moving on to our MCs, both Danais and Leo had strikingly different strengths as characters. Both of them were similar in that their personal histories are obscured (because plot? Stuff??), but their reactions to it are worlds apart. Danais is hoping to discover he’s a long lost super-important-so-and-so, which is sort of corroborated by incredibly vague plot points. I mean, other characters talk AROUND how important it is to keep Danais safe and all that, but never is it revealed exactly WHY (it just is) and for what PURPOSE (just because). He’s young, only 18. Though he is not initially introduced as a selfish, immature teenager, this is clearly his schtick by the time he’s getting involved with Leo.
Leo, on the other hand, starts off as sort of smarmy in his cavalier attitude towards matters of the heart. I was disappointed we didn’t get to see him actually make the change from playboy to devotedly-in-love-with-Danais, but this is what happens throughout the book. The character he morphs into (which we actually get to see happening on-page with amazing clarity compared to just about everything else that’s happening but poorly captured in the text) is with whom I was actually rather interested. Though it comes relatively late in the game, I enjoyed seeing Leo almost utterly give himself up to his “dark” magic. In turn, this reveals his true nature, which is not the devil-may-care playboy but a somber, nearly emotionless crucible. Watching him snap out of it because of his love interest also appealed to me, even if said love interest does so by being annoyingly “cute.”
On the whole, I felt this book failed to provide the kind of structure and world-building required to support what is ostensibly an epic fantasy tale. Let me clarify: the author gets purple in the prose trying to lay out the world these character inhabit, but it was presented in a perfunctory manner that didn’t mean anything because it never really related to the characters. With the exception of cultural acceptance of incest and one defining characteristic for each of four main races, the facts of life in this made-up world of Atorath were presented with such an ad-hoc manner that it seemed like each aspect was just tossed into the word salad as an afterthought.
I realize this is just book one what may be a longer series. That said, but a confusion of ill-defined characters (genders, species, defining qualities like physical appearance and life expectancy all muddled together) thrown into a plot that feels like a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma on a need-to-know basis (and you, dear reader do not need to know) sucked nearly all pleasure out of this book.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Self Published Book Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of seven fabulous prize packs from an amazing group of self published authors. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a loaded Kindle fire filled with DSP books!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Self Published Book Week here, including a list of all the prizes being offered this week. And check out our prize post for more details about the awesome prizes offered this month!