This book is Part 1 of the Ryel Saga. The word that caught my attention when reading reviews prior to purchase was 'lyrical.' It was directed specifically toward Ms. Kephart’s descriptions and the feelings they could evoke. I was excited to get started.
What I didn’t expect was that lyrical would mean not only the use of beautiful words, but also complicated phrasing utilizing words not found in the common epic fantasy. You have to pay attention when you read this novel, otherwise the narrative could be considered cumbersome. I quickly decided this was a book suited for long days on the beach when the language could wrap around you like the sea sliding along your calves . . . or afternoons next to the woodstove, bundled into a favorite chair. Neither of which are where I could spend time reading at the moment, but I pressed on. I couldn’t let Bruce down!
The story centers on Ryel and I’ll give Ms. Kephart credit: he is not a farm boy. He is from a nomadic clan living on the Steppes. It follows the realization of his gift of magic, his training in the remote city of Markel, one of four cities devoted to the study of magic. There are many little twists to make this tale unique, such as that magic usually comes to one late in life and not young like Ryel. From his training in Markel, Ryel, now in his 20′s, is lured out of his sheltered home to first save a loved one and then onward to protect others tormented by his enemy (because all good stories need a good enemy!).
The language, though beautiful, sets the pace for the novel and it is slow. The time in Markel is especially slow as no direct action takes place. Actually for a lot of the novel, Ryel seems bound to move unwillingly from one place to another whereupon you are thrust into a maze of flashbacks wrought in lovely detail. I found myself sighing on more than one occasion wishing I wasn’t in a flashback but actually going through the backstory that was being described.
I’ll mention one other “lovely detail” that eventually set my teeth on edge: 99% of the people in the novel are drop dead gorgeous, no matter the age. So many people are fit, trim, beautiful (often in culturally distinct ways too, which was a nice touch) that man . . . I want to live there (assuming I get the same nice treatment in description!).
There are moments of drama and action though, usually brought about by Ryel making a poor choice. He gets himself into big enough problems that his ENEMY needs to save him because the time to destroy him is quite not right. It is an interesting plot twist (though it happens more than once) and perhaps is to convey that Ryel is the underdog in the fight, more than a little unmatched to his enemy. But at the same time, Ryel is considered one of the greatest wysards in his world. It is a little disconcerting to have Ryel be a Lord Adept but also constantly behind in regards to information compared to his peers and ability to get himself out of just about any problem.
And that becomes the crux to me. Ryel completely is outmatched or does something so stupid that you want to take him by his shoulders and shake him until his teeth rattle (happily, a few characters do slap him around). You see, I want to shake Ryel – not Ms. Kephart. I got totally involved in Ryel’s story and life, feeling the affection he develops to some characters, his innocent startelement when something goes wrong, his anger and hope. I want to see him succeed and worry about the odds he is facing.
Few novels are going to win over a reader from start to finish without some moment of “why the heck?!” Knowing this was Book 1 to a series, the real telling moment is if after reaching the end I want to read Book 2. And the answer is yes. Maybe Ryel will finally find some common sense!