When I picked up this audiobook I wasn’t aware it was a coming of age/young adult novel, which is usually a genre I avoid like the plague. I think I burned myself out on them a while ago and I tend to get annoyed with less mature protagonists. So, when it was clear a few chapters in that this book had a 12 year old main character I was skeptical if I should continue, but, it was being narrated by the lovely Tim Gerard Reynolds, so I continued despite my hesitations.
I’m glad I did, I liked this book overall even though there are some things that kept me from giving it 5 stars.
The book starts out with a group of kids growing up in a smaller village somewhat in the middle of no where. There was a raid by pirate slavers, and the main character and his family were falsely accused of being a part of it, so they were forced to take a long trip to relocate to a new city.
Despite the book adhering to many of the coming of age tropes, having dead parents wasn’t one of them – the relationship between the father and son in this book is extremely complex. Despite seemingly caring for his family (in his own twisted way) the father is extremely verbally and physically abusive to his wife and son. It’s left the main character with PTSD, a topic I don’t see brought up in fantasy, let alone YA.
I unfortunately have several people very close to me with this sort of relationship with their fathers, and many aspects of the relationship I feel were portrayed accurately, including what it’s like to live with PTSD and suffer from panic attacks. Some people got annoyed with this part of the book, but considering my background with it I found it to be well done for the most part. After losing control of his temper, the father goes through a phase of shame at his loss of control and becomes distant and cold unable to bring himself to apologize. The son, despite the messed up things his father does to him, clings to the good memories they create while hunting and foresting together.
When they reach the new city he decides he wants to take vengeance against the people who raided his home town and took someone he cared deeply about. He signs up for the military academy there and the bulk of the book takes place within this academy. This is not a magic academy, and in fact magic has just barely been touched on – if you dislike being beaten over the head with magic systems and powerful mages and really enjoy military academies this book may appeal to you.
The length spent at the academy is one of my complaints though, not because of the lack of magic, but because I feel like it could have been condensed a bit to keep the pacing a bit faster. The book is LONG for a YA book and I think that’s part of the reason I didn’t realize it was YA, at 700+ pages I thought this was an adult epic fantasy.
We do eventually get to the fantastic elements of the book in the last quarter of the book when a short sighted prince decides to send a group of people he considers to be trouble makers on a suicide mission to an ancient ruin where scouting parties have not returned from. The main character, a friend of his, and a group of trained soldiers are sent to go explore the ruin and see why people haven’t been returning.
Here we encounter some ENORMOUS beasts that haven’t been seen in the realm for ages. The ruin is full of ancient treasures, monsters, and traps.
By the end of the book we are seeing more mystical things occur, and Aeden has gone from being 12 at the beginning of the book to 16. He’s preparing to be sent as an infiltrator to the land of the people who stole the villager he cared so much about, and lamented about for much of the book.
It didn’t end on a cliffhanger, some of the challenges the main character faced have been resolved, but it’s absolutely not the end of the story, and I hope that the next one has a bit more action and faster pacing. I expect that it will due to where he’s going, and the impending war his realm has been prepping for during much of the book.
Despite some pacing issues and my general disinterest in coming of age novels I did feel compelled to keep reading and finished the book within a few days – I will be picking up the second book when it comes out.
If you’re looking for something that fits debut novel or self published, enjoy ya and coming of age stories I would recommend picking it up.