Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Bookwyrm's Review of Darkmage by M.L. Spencer

Author: M.L. Spencer

Length: 521 Pages/ 18 Hours, 26 minutes (Audio)

Publisher:  Stoneguard Publications

Release Date: January 6, 2016/ September 18, 2018

Narrator: Simon Wright

Series: The Rhenwars Saga, book 1

Genre: Grimdark fantasy

After reading the opening book in this series, Darkstorm, I was curious where the author would take it, considering that ending. Well, she took it a thousand years after the events of Darkstorm, and started a whole new cast of characters, with references and the history since mixed in, all to great effect.

The time has come for Darien Lauchlin, son of the Prime Warden of Aerysius, basically the head of the mage guild, to be invested as a mage. This is accomplished by an elderly mage passing along their power, which kills them in the process. After the transfer, someone unexpected betrays the entire mage guild, and the kingdoms at large, by opening the Well of Tears, releasing the forces of the God of Chaos upon the world. This includes the eight demons of legend, powerful mages of a previous era that were sent to the underworld as they attempted to open the Well themselves. Escaping as the mage's tower is destroyed, Darien watches the city fall to ruin as he escapes. Being helped by an aged mage to escape, he also gains that mages power, making him the most powerful mage walking around, much more powerful than a human is supposed to be. 

Escaping to the border of the Darklands, Darien must convince the commander of the border defenses to retreat away to a more defensible position now that the mages, who were defense only magic anyway, are now gone, and the defenses will be facing magic they can no longer defend against. While there, Darien meets Kyel Archer, an undiscovered magic sensitive who he takes on as an apprentice. With the help of a priestess of the God of Death, Darien and Kyel hatch a plan to defeat the forces of chaos and close the Well. Splitting up to marshal the various armed kingdom forces, Kyel is sent to gather up one kingdoms forces and have them gather at a place of magic power, while Darien goes to another for the same task.

This all ends up leading to a dramatic confrontation with the forces of the kingdoms against the forces of the Darklands and their chaos masters. Darien must choose whether to break his peace vow, making him a pariah. Also, the plan to close the Well involves the ultimate sacrifice, with the whole world on the line. The ending is such a twist, you can't possibly see it coming, but in the best way possible.

Like it's predecessor Darkstorm, Darkmage is primarily a character driven story, Its the story of people who have to make decisions that have world shaking consequences, which will affect them most of all. Is your oath and honor worth thousands of lives? Is the sacrifice your father made not enough example? Darien struggles with all of this, as do so many of the other characters. The Oath of Peace hangs over the proceedings, and Darien has to contend with it throughout. Darien is a complex, fully drawn out character. the secondary characters are given good development as well, especially Kyel. The villains are mostly in the background, working behind the scenes, although the initiator of the entire conflict does get a bit of poetic justice. The world building s top notch, the plotting is fast paced, action packed and emotional, and the twist ending really cemented how good this book was.

The narration by Simon Wright was definitely a high point. His voice sounds quite a bit like Kit Harrington, so it sounds like Jon Snow is reading to you, which is kind of cool if you ask me. Excellent voice work for the various characters, and he has excellent pacing.  I can't recommend it enough, in whatever format you choose.

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