Aleksei Drago is just a quiet small-village farm boy whose biggest concern is getting the harvest in before winter. But a mysterious voice in his head is summoning him with fierce urgency to drop everything and ride north. He cannot help but follow the call, but the choice presented to him could change everything about his life, and about the fate of his world as well. Will he be able to face the dangers before him, and become the hero he is called to be? Or will an ancient darkness overwhelm his world and destroy everything he loves?
THE HUNTER’S GAMBIT is a lively, well-written fantasy tale in the classic style, an excellent beginning to McIntire’s Archanium Codex series. The world-building is thoughtfully done, creating a magical system that has rules and makes enough sense to be believable, political and religious scheming that feels real and human, and a set of intersecting cultures that are both novel enough to be interesting and familiar enough to be comfortable. The world’s history and the characters’ backstories are revealed organically as the book goes on, without tedious and intrusive over-explication, and the result is to leave the reader wanting more, rather than less – exactly the desired effect for the first book in a series. Every single important character is given at least the impression of a substantial backstory, lively, three-dimensional personalities that develop and grow as the book goes on, and clear motivations for their actions.
The book contains no lazy “this character is the bad guy, so he’s just evil for no reason”. Aleksei may be a bit too perfect, especially as he becomes more and more overpowered in the course of the story. He’s the standard pure-hearted farm boy called to a Grand Destiny, with astounding weapons skills and mysterious magical powers, plus an instinctive ability to lead and inspire men and women to follow him into the depths of hell and back – but there’s a reason that character is an archetype in fantasy novels. It works here in part because we see much of the story actually through his eyes, and are able to perceive his thoughts, emotions, and reactions as fully human despite his rather excessive abilities and seemingly incorruptible moral virtue. He’s certainly easy to root for. He’s also balanced by his slightly more cynical, politically-savvy partner, and their relationship adds a lovely touch of warmth and sweetness to the book, in addition to helping to further the plot. The action is vigorous and energetic – the book may be quite long, but it’s thoroughly engaging. There’s not a single page in the book that left me not wanting to read the next, and readers will find it hard to put down once they’ve gotten absorbed in the story.
THE HUNTER’S GAMBIT will thoroughly satisfy those readers who enjoy a well-written fantasy novel with classic fantasy tropes cleverly rewoven into a new, creative and engaging tale.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader