In Terra Australis, a land whose creatures are descendants of ancient genetic manipulation, young Thorik Dain takes an unexpected journey.
The story opens with a chase: the already injured human Ambrosius throws the last of his physical and magical strength into fleeing and fighting off thrashers, which resemble carnivorous apes. In the village of Farbank, humanlike â€œpolenums,” or â€œnums,” are celebrating the harvest festival with the traditional race and Rune Awards when a young num named Thorik finds Ambrosius unconscious in the woods outside Farbank. Thorik brings the injured human home to his eccentric healer grandmother Gluic. Once healed, Ambrosius recalls the source of his pain: He convened the Grand Council, a meeting among the land’s leaders, and an unnatural explosion destroyed the Council and the sacred temple where they met. Ambrosius declares that he must return to warn the people, and he will need traveling companions. Thorik and Gluic agree to go, as do arrogant Wess, conservative spiritual leader Brimelle, love interest Emilen and Wess’ precocious niece Avanda. The group presses forward through an episodic series of obstacles: more thrasher attacks, a house where enchanted lantern oil brings the walls to life and a land of sinister pixies who force Thorik to play a game for his fellow party members’ safety. They meet a giant and a dragon who know Ambrosius and adopt them into the party, despite some travelers’ wishes. Tying the narrative together is the question of Ambrosius’ intentions: The party is torn between believing his story and thinking that he is the malevolent force behind the Council’s destruction. Thorik, who begins the story as Brimelle’s meek, obedient student, is more naturally open to outsiders’ viewpoints, and his gradual transformation into a leader willing to take risks is both believable and appealing. A few loose ends, like Thorik’s shameful lack of soul-markings, are not tied up, but it seems likely that readers will learn more in the next installment.
Engaging, if not groundbreaking, fantasy adventure.