Rating: 4 stars
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As a young knight, nothing is more important to Ash than honor—except perhaps the love he bears for the half-elf and battle mage Havyn. While it is no crime for two men to share one love, it is frowned upon among the ranks of the knights. Worse, Ash’s commander seems to hold a special kind of resentment for Ash’s relationship and doesn’t hold his punches when it comes to punishing Ash for putting the slightest toe out of line.
Their comfortable, if somewhat restrained, existence is about to be tested by none other than the gods. A evil has been brewing and as the stars align, it threatens to consume the whole world. The Gods themselves have named Ash and Haven as the two champions tasked with saving the world—all they need to do is travel into the heart of enemy territory and win back the source of good: a sphere of light.
Along the way, the lovers face trials that challenge their skill. Despite Ash’s strength with the steel and Havyn’s skill with spells, they are untested in battle. They must not only learn to master their talents, but also how to use them effectively as a team. One of the biggest challenges they face, however, is coming to terms with the very real threat that one or both of them may perish before the end of the quest. When an old enemy strikes anew, a crucial blindspot in the ties that bind Ash and Haven together is revealed—and it threatens to undermine everything they are fighting for.
This story opens with a scene where the Gods are selecting their champions. The tone of the prose got me geared up for some epic high fantasy, but the reality of the prose itself and the quality of the writing leans hard into ‘fluffy’ and ‘feel good’ mores than ‘epic quest.’ That was a bit of a disconnect because part of me kept hoping things would take a turn for the fantastical, but instead, there was more gentle wandering.
The characters are likable enough. I definitely got the impression that Ash was the favorite. Havyn certainly holds his own, but when it comes to the emotional angst (that blindspot in their relationship), it’s all on Ash. It was Ash’s decisions that lead to their predicament, it was Ash’s decision about when and how he would hash it out with Havyn. In another thread, as the journey progresses, we can see that both Ash and Havyn are getting more powerful—but only the source of Ash’s extra abilities plays out on page. I was a bit disappointed that Angelo left in allusions to something big happening with Havyn as the source of his increased powers, then never seeing anything materialize on the page.
The pacing of the action was also a bit humdrum for me. It felt too compartmentalized. They walk around, find a town, get some information, leave town, fight something, repeat. Even in the thick of battle, I thought there were overt “my turn, your turn” imagery going on. On the one hand, I certainly do want to know what Ash and Havyn are doing when they’re in the midst of a fight…on the other hand, it’s like I’m watching a video game where the battle settings are “wait” so nothing happens while you select your move and no one else does anything. It works with a visual medium, but on the page, it felt rather disjointed. I also had some feels about the way every battle these two encounter completely wipes them out. Early on, it was like Havyn, a ‘battle mage’ poops out after producing a fireball…and he’s half the team that’s supposed to save the world.
So we have Ash driving the action and emotion. He does come off as a sort of “strong, silent type” but in a good way because the narrator makes it clear he and Havyn are head over heels for each other. Ash may have been a more central focus, but it was coming from the “right place” and I was rooting for him to come clean so Havyn could comfort him for having borne the emotional load.
When it comes to the plot, the bad guy side came in many shapes and forms. It was a bit of a challenge to visualize the scale of the bad side. There was, however, a consistent enemy for our two heroes to face in the form of Ash’s former commander. That character provided key consistency in an otherwise very changeable field of what I can only describe as “not the good guys.”
Regardless, there were a couple of touching scenes. I definitely liked how Ash and Havyn are portrayed as being completely devoted to one another—the constant longing kept me rooting for more. As they progressed on their journey, both Havyn and Ash had to grapple with the “can I forsake the world to save my lover” thoughts, which an angst lover like myself enjoyed a lot. Plus, the final battle scene was rather well executed—the deus ex machina element was a bit ropey, but it totally fit with the tone of the story.
I would recommend this story for anyone who likes easy-to-read fantasy, doesn’t require a lot of careful attention to detail, and focuses a lot on the action and relationship between the main characters.