Verdict: While the author does a fine job of world-building the book ultimately suffers from formulaic predictability - there's not much in it that isn't a cliche, and there's not much depth to any of the characters or to the plot.
The countries of the Realm have been in Alliance for many years, since the rise and defeat of the evil Mahan, a Dark Lord whose ability to control others’ minds and wills made him immensely powerful. Now, Davian Ul, another Dark Lord, rises in Mahan’s place, in the mountainous keep of Tar Belg.
Davian Ul seeks to use a prophecy concerning three boys, triplets born to a blacksmith father and a mother forced to flee for her life to a cave in the mountains. One will serve Greatness, as the adopted son of a king. One will serve Strength, as a loyal and capable soldier. And one, stolen away at birth by Davian Ul, will serve the Dark.
As the three boys grow into men, Davian Ul secretly marshals his forces, and his network of spies. Can the Alliance withstand treason in its very midst? Can its leaders piece together truth and falsehood in time to stop Davian Ul’s dangerous plans? And what will happen when the three young men learn of their destinies, and face each other at last?
Author Steven Schmutz does a fine job of world-building here: the Realm has a history, a culture, and lots of intriguing detail. The characters are sympathetic, and it’s nice to see capable and intelligent women in leading roles as well (even if they are primarily Queens Consort, there is solid medieval precedent for Queens Consort capably running things while Kings were off at war).
Schmutz finds useful and reasonable (at least in a fantasy context) of managing issues like communication (trained hawks, telepathy, etc.) and does not let the use of magic get out of hand, imposing sensible limits on its use to keep it from overwhelming the story (at least possibly until the very end – but we won’t know how that particular trick worked until the sequel, if ever).
The author gets a bit too caught up in detail at times, though, and it bogs down the story a bit – the novel would be much better at about half its length. It would also benefit from a good editor, as there are far too many typos, misplaced apostrophes, and misused words (“affect” for “effect”, “illusive” for “elusive,” etc.). This reviewer, as well, would like to see the good characters become substantially less gullible. Time and again they are told by another character, “Oh, I secretly escaped from the Dark Lord’s clutches and here’s how…let me now help you defeat his evil!” and time and again that character is proven to be just another tool of the Dark Lord infiltrating their ranks. It’s a wonder they still believe at all, or that the main traitor’s rather flimsy story could be credited by (almost) everyone, even to the point of allowing him to participate in battle planning and strategy.
But the main problem of the book is simply its formulaic predictability – there’s not much in it that isn’t a cliche, and there’s not much depth to any of the characters or to the plot. The characters are either All Good or All Bad, nothing in the middle, and they all act in pretty stereotypical, predictable fashion.
Reviewed by Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader