This was a review request but it’s also been entered into the SPFBO competition this year within Fantasy Faction’s grouping.
The main character is sitting in his room one August afternoon when all of the sudden the sun goes dark and the air goes extremely cold. Frost forms on the glass and he thinks he’s having a dream or maybe hallucinating when his aunt comes up the steps with a candle and confirms that she’s seeing the same thing.
The room around them gets colder and colder so they try and start a fire in the fireplace, he falls asleep, and when he wakes up he finds that she’s died. The last of the embers are going out when he sees a shining light, a circle of different colors shimmering in the fireplace. Without thinking, he goes through the portal to find himself in another world entirely. He’s made his first portal into the Nether, an artificial realm made of multiple cities all enclosed in an enormous sphere.
A man finds him coming out of the portal and he tries to help him get back home, only to find it’s a moot point because he’s never heard of Earth, and recognizes Sam’s species as Methium. (It’s later explained that all the humans known to the Ten Species come from a planet that’s not Earth) It’s all overwhelming for Sam, he already has an anxiety disorder and can’t handle himself well around other humans, let alone this new species of alien greeting him on the other side of a portal. Sam barely holds it together as he walks through this new city that’s outside of space and time.
The man who found him is a mage named Origon, and after learning about what happened on Earth with the sun going out and the world becoming cold he identified the event as a Drain. Seeing an opportunity to finally bring the council’s attention to the danger of Drains, Origon tries to get Sam to testify in front of the council to try and convince them of the impending danger. The council has been preoccupied with what Origon considers “boogeyman stories” of an ancient shapeshifting race known as the Aridori that were thought to be extinct but are now “coming back and causing problems again”. It’s gotten to the point where people are starting to turn on each other, accusing others of being Aridori and things are getting dangerously tense. Rilan, another mage who believes in Origon’s cause is also trying to help by working with Sam on his anxieties. She’s able to cast a spell which settles his nerves enough that he won’t have panic attacks walking down the street.
On their way to the council Origon offers Sam an apprenticeship, together they are going to try and research the Drains and find a way to get Sam back to Earth. When they arrive at the council to give them their new evidence for the Drains they are nearly laughed out of the assembly. They won’t listen to Origon and tell him that they have mounting evidence the Aridori’s have returned, they’re killing and replacing farmers within the Nether and that these are the issues that the council will focus on. They even try and deny Sam his right to apprentice under Origon. Luckily for them both in the end they at least get to work together even if they won’t have the council’s support.
Meanwhile, councilor Rilan from the house of Healing has been assigned her first apprentice, and it didn’t get off on the right foot. Her new apprentice wants nothing to do with the mental aspects of healing, and considers the psychological aspects of healing to be an affront and a breach on an individuals privacy. Her apprentice and Sam work closely together throughout the book trying to gather more evidence about the Drains when suddenly a Drain pops up on the Metherium homeworld and that’s where things start to pick up.
I liked Sam, he’s a very different kind of character than I’m used to reading. A lot of MC’s are super confident, they’re usually very talented in one area or another, and sometimes have an ego that’s too big for their britches. Sam struggles with day to day things like being around people he doesn’t know. I don’t see social anxiety or panic attacks as a trait that many fantasy characters have and it’s refreshing to get a different sort of main character. He’s often pre-occupied with worrying about one thing or another and is forever second-guessing himself.
The magic system in this is rather ornate and more along the lines of a hard magic system over mysterious magic. Magi can harness what’s known as the Grand Symphony, and depending on what frequencies the mages can hear determines what kind of magic they can use. There are healers, communicators and other classes of magi that has a council as a ruling body. This story is also more along the lines of science-fantasy than high fantasy or epic fantasy since the magic system itself is referred to as a science and not magic since it’s “repeatable and consistent”.
The Nether itself works as a translator for all the species that inhabit it, if you listen closely you’ll notice that you don’t actually understand the language being spoken to you, but you understand the intent of what was said without having to think about it. It also gives you a sense of navigation, if you think of where you want to go you get little instincts about what streets to use and where to turn to get to where you’re going. And technically, the Nether isn’t even inside the real universe, it’s outside of time and space and no one really knows why.
There are ten species that are currently known to be able to create portals and travel the galaxies, they are all pretty different from each other and many are brand new creations by the author rather than using traditional fantasy races. I have nothing against traditional fantasy races, I loves orcs and elves, but reading about brand new species is always fun. I really loved how the author used body language for Origon’s character, a lot of his emotions were expressed through the feathers on his crest.
The writing had a bit of weird dialogue when it came to the MC’s aunt, she used the word “shall” a lot, and I think it was to show dialect difference and maybe her ‘proper’ personality type, but it came out a little awkward. I did however like the way the different aliens spoke with strange usages of tenses and sentence structure which felt foreign but was also understandable. I also liked how some of the world-building that couldn’t fit fluidly into dialogue was integrated into the book at the beginnings of each chapter as an excerpt from a history book – that works way better than trying to jam 1,000 year old history bits into dialogue.
This book starts off really quickly, it just throws you into what looks like the end of Earth and flings the MC into an entirely alien world. From there, however, things slow down a bit and the world building is introduced along with some character development and another POV, the real meat of the story didn’t really pick up until about halfway through the book.
Overall I liked this, it’s really different and I tend to enjoy a mix of science and fantasy, I just don’t come across them all that often. I also really liked the illustrations in the book that really helped me visualize these new species that are unique to this world. Origon was described sort of like a bird but I was having a hard time coming up with a visual in my head for it.
- alien species vs classic fantasy races
- hard magic system
- lots of magic
- advanced tech
- in-depth world building
- MC’s with anxiety disorder
- Plot: 11.5/15
- Characters: 12/15
- World Building: 13/15
- Writing: 11/15
- Pacing: 10/15
- Originality: 12.75/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 8/10