Author: Joe Jackson
Length: 422 Pages
Publisher: Aethon Press
Release Date: TBD
Genre: Epic Fantasy
I decided to try this one out on a recommendation from a friend, who told me it was like nothing else out there. Figuring that was just hyperbole, since it seems like there's only variations on certain themes lately, I was pleasantly surprised to discover he was correct, since this story definitely has its own unique plot and themes.
Karian Vanador, Shield of the Heavens, by the Grace of Zalkar, has just finished fighting with the forces of light against the Devil Queen Seril's demon forces in the Apocalypse. Being a demon hunter for the God of Justice Zalkar, she was eminently suited for fighting them. Being resurrected after being dead 200 years to fight in the Apocalypse still weighs heavily on her. As she prepares for a life outside the military, she feels a summoning from Zalkar's priest's that tell her life isn't getting any simpler.
Traveling to a nearby city, she meets with the local clergy, who tell her she has a new mission as a demon hunter. She is to meet up with the Silver Blades, a group of half-demon's who fought for their turncoat Demon Lord father for the side of Light, and evaluate their leader, while they go on a mission to investigate a warlord looking to start a race war. Kari is not looking forward to the mission, but she is loyal to her god, and unknown to her, the mission will change her life in ways she'd never have been able to foresee.
Meeting up with the Blades, she discovers they are a group of five brothers and one sister, who have a diverse skill set, and were responsible for taking down a Demon Lord during the Apocalypse. Traveling with the group is Erys, a half demon assassin/spy in a relationship with one of the brothers, Alegios. Led by Erik, who is a demon hunter in the service of Zalkar, they proceed by ship to the island where the potential war is brewing. On the long trip, Kari gets to know the Blades, determining they are serious fighters with a range of useful combat and magical skills. She also starts a relationship with Grakin, the group's healer, who realizes she is the famed demon hunter of legend resurrected, and not an imposter using the name.
During the Journey, they make port in Kari's home city, which she had hoped to avoid due to childhood trauma that is just resurfacing in her jumbled memories. When Grakin is supportive and understanding of her reaction to the trauma resurfacing, she realizes they are truly mates for one another. As they continue the voyage, they stop at an isolated island, dropping supplies off to refugees from an attempted genocide. They also pick up a pair of human twin orphans, who need to leave the island if they are ever to find life mates. Both of them want to become paladins, so the Blades start to give them instruction in both combat skills and religious magic.
Reaching another port on the Isle of Tsalburn, where the potential war may start, the group splits up after gathering intelligence about the political and war situation. Erik and Kari split off from the rest of the group, chasing a rumor of a demon that may be behind starting the war. The rest of the group proceed with Alegios as leader to gather the rest of the Island's cities together to set armies out to confront the invasion force. Both groups have various successes and meet up a city much closer to the enemy, and combine together to confront the enemies leaders in a sneak attack from the inside of their own castle, while the islanders face the army on the outside. They discover that there is a much bigger conspiracy going on than they thought, and it could have world wide consequences if not stopped. Kari also has something happen that will change her life forever as well.
WORLD BUILDING AND CHARACTERS
When I mentioned that this was a unique story, I wasn't just being hyperbolic. The world building is such that this really stands apart. One way it stands apart is the fact that while there are humans, they are a small part of the population. This is not a world populated with just elves and dwarves either. There are huge amounts of what amounts to animalistic humanoids, as well as part-demons. Kari is a perfect example of this, being Dracon-rir, which means she has a draconic type face, even though she is a mammal, wings which allow her to glide, and being stronger than a human of her size. The Silver Blade siblings are similar in not being human and having wings, all being humanoid. There are also lizard like humanoids, as well as the varieties of unique monsters. The world building is also unusual in that the author takes into account actual physics when he writes out the fight scenes. That means a 5 foot 3, 110 lb woman will not be slinging a 6 foot 3, 230 pound man around like she's Hulk Hogan. Speed, agility and training become key components in fights, as they would in real life. The fight and battle scenes thus have an added element of realism just not seen much recently in fantasy.
The characters are written as realistically as possible, especially considering they aren't human for the most part. The main group, especially Kari, are fully developed, with strengths, flaws and even horrific trauma they have to deal with. They build some real comradery throughout, and the peeks into their pasts really expand on their characters. Even the villains and secondary characters get attention paid to them, really fleshing them out. The only thing I was a little disappointed in was the appearance of some of the characters, such as the Silver Blades, since their descriptions are a bit vague. This is a small complaint, though, and didn't really dampen my enjoyment of the story.
As I mentioned before, this story is a unique take on the epic fantasy journey. It doesn't use the usual chosen one tropes, but takes a fresh look at how to make a successful narrative. It creates rounded characters you can get invested in, and you find yourself unable to put the book down. I really can't recommend it enough, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.