This is Matthew Beard’s first (published) novel and it shows a bit in the writing early on, but as the novel progresses, there are many details and plot surprises that make this a worthwhile read. The beginning of this novel shows the most growing pains for the new author, with some clunky writing as the story gets going. The book doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, feeling like a YA fantasy book in parts, but tossing in some R-rated bits and pieces that might not be appropriate for younger readers. I think the intent is for this to be an adult fantasy, but perhaps with broader appeal to teen readers.
The main character, Nergei, is a dumpy warlock’s apprentice who stumbles through much of the novel focused on his infatuation with a pretty young lady from the village. To me, the character seems to stereotyped – we’ve seen this character many times before in fantasy (think Samwell Tarly from George R. R. Martin) – and the cast of minor characters that come on scene after the first 100 pages or so are far more interesting. The story really picks up some steam at this point, after Nergei and a contingent from his village are forced to enlist the help of a group of adventurers from a nearby city. This group does seem like your typical D&D party at first (human fighter, dwarf cleric, elf archer, elf wizard, human monk), but they each have interesting histories that are developed over the course of the novel that make them different and interesting. In fact, one of the greatest strengths of this book is that is veers away from a focus on one main character (Nergei) and spends time developing much of the cast before the end.
A literary agent once said to me, “all that matter in a new fantasy are the details,” and this book does a good job of having just enough different that it’s an interesting read for both D&D fans and people who might want an introduction to the D&D core world. You’ve got Kenku (bird people), Goliaths, assassins of the Raven Queen, and the Old Stargazer – a starpact warlock who is finally close to paying his due to the extraterrestrial forces that have granted him his power his entire life.
I was disappointed at first that the book did not connect in any obvious way to the other D&D core world novels. I feel like some effort could have been made on this end, and even the city they visit is kept intentionally generic so it’s difficult to place this adventure on a map of the world. Still, I was surprised by the additions and connections to the old empire of Nerath at the end of the book, so there are bits of history here for those interested in that type of thing.
The print in this novel is fairly large and it’s a quick read, so if you’re looking for something to read on a plane or over the weekend, this is your book. It’s a fun adventure with enough interesting details to satisfy fans that have read a lot of D&D novels (like myself), but a good introduction to those who haven’t.