Kell isn’t in a good place. He’s 26 and lost, insecure, and worn down by his parents. He wants to get away from them, from his father, from all of it, but no matter how much money he saves, it’s never enough. It’s not just school, it’s the bus ticket, it’s the down payment on an apartment, it’s bills and food and all the small things that add up and, as always, Kell finds himself coming up short.
If he were braver, he’d leave. He’d stop taking all the abuse, all the resentment, the looks, the scorn and contempt and just leave. But Kell’s always taken the cautious path. Kept his head down, done as he was told. He’s the only son with a Korean middle name, the only one his mother dared give a part of herself to, and maybe that’s part of it, too. Bound by his mother’s chains — the ones she gave him and the ones she bears, herself — and chained to this town.
One night, a night like many others, Kell sneaks out of his house to an old bridge on the outskirts of towns and just screams, and screams, and screams. But, for the first time, there’s something in the silence. Something answers his scream of hopelessness and pain and Kell finds himself in a world that expects him to be their savior. Their Chosen One. Well, as Kell comes to find out, not the Chosen one. Not even a Chosen One. No, he’s just today’s Chosen One, soon to be replaced with tomorrow’s. For once, Kell’s going to turn his back on what he’s supposed to do and do what he wants to do. In a world made of adventure stories like the ones he used to read, with demons and angels, elves and magic spells, Kell is going to find himself a magic sword. That’s it, that’s the plan. No saving the world, no rescuing the damsel, none of that. He just wants the one thing this world doesn’t seem to have, and he’s not going to stop until he gets it.
Along the way, he’ll find an angel afraid of heights, an orlk girl with invisible armor, an elf with a sense of humor, and demons who came out of a Hot Topic store. Kell will make friends, fall in love, become a hero, and maybe — if he’s lucky — find the sword of his dreams.
This story is irreverent and fun, with thoughtful moments that creep up on you when you’re not looking. Kell takes being in a fantasy world with marvelous aplomb, torn between viewing it as a dream and taking it as reality. But what he won’t do is take anyone’s shit. Not some goddess who wants him to die for her prophecy, not the Lich King who sends the most pompous demons after him, and not his own cowardice, either. When Kell finds himself pausing, hesitating … he makes himself keep going forward. Cautiously. He never rushes into danger, never risks more than he’s willing to lose, and spends more time thinking than fighting. And the more he gets to know this world and the people in it, the more he gets to know himself. To know when he’s going to say yes, I will make friends with this strange person. And yes, I will allow myself to trust this angel. And yes, I will (reluctantly) eat fish. Or, in Kell’s words: “It’s my life. I deserve to mess it up my way.” Kell knows the tropes, knows the beats of a fantasy story. He knows what heroes are supposed to be like and realizes … yeah, that’s not me. And it’s fun to see him subvert all of the expectations, those of himself and the reader both.
He’d always wanted to want to be good at this kind of thing. And now he had the perfect opportunity to excel, and he … Still didn’t want to.
The person Kell finds himself, er, falling for is the angel Ansel who fell from heaven. Well, he’s not really an angel, he’s a Celesian, a six-winged, beautiful, and sweet man who lives in the clouds with the Dawn Goddess who wants Kell to die. He’s a scholar who is terrible at magic, a man who lives in a floating city while being afraid of heights, and whose healing spells … er, kill fish. He’s also shyly, sweetly, infatuated with Kell. But whether he’s infatuated with Kell or the Chosen, Kell still doesn’t know. And none of this is helped by the fact that Kell is sex-averse.
Holding hands with Ansel, cuddling with him at night, sharing lingering glances and secret smiles all make his heart warm and flutter like a butterfly in his chest. But the idea of being touched in a sexual way, of having someone’s naked skin, of kisses that involve more passion …. no. That’s not what he wants, and even though he thinks he’s falling in love with Ansel, that’s not something he’s going to force himself to give. Fortunately, Ansel — whose own life has been one of being unwanted, unwelcome, and the butt of every joke, is happy enough to be loved. Kell knows that might change. For Ansel, at least. Until then, he’s happy where he is, on a Quest — with a capital Q — with friends, and food (he really doesn’t like fish), and no idea where he’s going. But he’s the one choosing to go.
As I said before, the book sneaks up on you. The tone has a sort of jocular, flippant way of carrying the story around with snark and self-aware moments, but the moments in between, where Kell is looking at himself in this new world, finding the spine to say no, are some of the strongest. It’s a bit of a satire, a bit of a comedy, and — for me — it worked on every level. The parts I most enjoyed are Kell’s bursts of smug, millennial, middle-fingering to the Goddess of the Dawn:
She managed to get out half a lecture on destiny before he found a balcony to throw himself off. It became a game after that. A game to him, at least. He called it Death by Boredom, and it was the most fun he’d ever had in bed.
Her Squashness didn’t share his enthusiasm for it, which was a pity. They were almost becoming friends
I am looking forward to the next book in this series. I’m curious to see where Kell goes, what chaos he sows, and whether or not he finds his mythical magic sword. And I really hope you come along with me.