It was something at first sight. Reece, the dark and nefarious Demon Lord, was nothing like what Vere expected. And Vere, the do-gooding Divinity Disciple, had a cocky smile that took Reece by surprise. Now, Vere can’t get the red-headed Reece out of his thoughts and already has plans to find the young Demon Lord and … and what? Fight with him, yes. Talk with him, yes. And then? He doesn’t know, not really. But there’s a connection between the two of them, he can feel it.
Every seven years, the goddess, Mona, opens the gates of the trial grove to young men and women from every guild to compete for a spell of her creation. What the spell is, no one knows. How to win it from her, they can only guess. This year, the young Demon Lord is joining the trial, representing the Eternal Night guild. This is Vere’s chance, and he’s not going to let it pass him by!
Elsewhere, Prince Hann has plans, plans that involve glory and power, riches and women. If he can convince the noble Alliance guilds to attack the Eternal Night guild, starting a war, there’s really no way in which he doesn’t win. Either Eternal Night is gone, no longer a blight on the empire, no longer a threat to his power … or the Alliance guilds lose. Weakened, their best fighters dead or demoralized, there would be no one to stand in Hann’s way as he climbs ever closer to taking over his father’s throne.
Vere came into the guild late, already an adolescent who had lived a life of privation and isolation as an orphan on the streets. When Master Wyken found him and took him under his wing, Vere took to him both as his teacher and his father figure. His fellow disciples are his family, his guild is his home. Reece is something new, something unexpected and … a challenge. It’s not just the old fire magic versus ice magic, it’s the way Reece is nothing like his evil reputation, nothing like anything Vere expected.
Reece is a young man whose friends are almost all adults. His uncle, his bodyguards, the other members of the guild … and his dog. (There’s a charming moment where Reece is facing a being of primordial power whose shape is mostly canine — or canine adjacent — and Reece can’t help but go all gooey and want to cuddle it). When Vere forces himself into Reece’s world, he has no idea how to handle an aggressively friendly young man who wants to get to know him. Reece is sheltered, insecure, and defensive. Vere is used to putting himself into harm’s way to spare those he cares about, used to being the adult in his peer group. He both wants to protect Reece and to fight him, to test himself against someone who might be his equal. Their relationship mostly works. Reece is by turns clueless or on the wrong foot with Vere, often thinking about how stupid he is, and often using the word stupid to describe him. It’s meant, I think, to be affectionate rather than dismissive.
The world is a little confusing, at first, with its pastiche of genres and cultures, with bombs and matches alongside mages and hellhounds, fox gods, and a Marquis of Hell; then toss in long swords, scimitars, and public bulletin boards for missions. The names, too, are a mixed bag: Wyken, Vere, and Asmiel next to Jed, Hans, and Clive, Parts of the book reminded me very much of an anime, such as the pulling and pinching of a fox’s cheeks, the descriptions of the fight scenes, the almost random assortment of characters, and the introduction of the magic guilds. It made it hard for me to find a balance between whether this was meant to be a traditional fantasy — with a tangle of pieces, rather than a constructed world — or a more isekai, MMO world where the jumbled assortment is just part of the ambiance. I ended up leaning more towards the latter approach, purely due to the way scenes played out and characters behaved, more modern and with a laissez faire approach, manners, and dialogue.
This is the first book in the Primordial Ruins series, and appears to be the debut work from this author. It suffers from some redundant moments and some awkward segues, such as having Reece and his uncle, Callan, talk about things Reece has surely known for some time. It also feels as though the author was inspired by many different types of media and took the parts they like and simply put them into the book, but it felt done so randomly, without smoothing the joins and creating something new and unique, that it was hard to pinpoint that inspiration.
The writing is solid and the pace is light and quick. There are no drops in momentum and the plot is well constructed. While the magic system feels fleshed out, the characters seem all one note, and the confusing world with no organic rhyme or reason to its politics or people — and as someone for whom the world building is a foundation of my enjoyment in a book — this was awkward for me to read. Despite my ambivalence with this story, however, I am very curious to see more from this author.