This teen fantasy debut introduces a young heir who must harness his magical ancestry while navigating the perils of romance and politics.
After nearly cataclysmic religious strife, peace reigns in Jaelshead, a rural district at the foot of the Rhye Mountains, and its surrounding regions. Jaseth, the eldest son of Jaelshead’s lord, ponders a future laden with responsibility. He meets Charlie, a tall stranger with gray skin and red eyes, who belongs to the Nea’thi, a benevolent race that evolved underground and guides humanity. Charlie visits because Jaseth is a Bloodkin—a human who possesses magical Nea’thi talents. As Jaseth’s mentor, Charlie whisks him to the capital city of Lille, where Jaseth will receive two years of academy training alongside seven other Bloodkin, including Lolitha, Telgeth and love-interest Sallagh. Initially, the sprawling capital city awes Jaseth, who finds plenty of food, drink and companionship. But as his studies in fire creation and shield building progress, Lille’s dangerous underbelly reveals itself. Lya Vassalion, an assassin’s guild, operates with apparent impunity. As a visit from Queen Thaelique draws near and people start to go missing, Jaseth fears for the lands and people he’ll one day rule. Author Ashford delivers a vibrant world. Readers will want to explore Lille’s square, “bathed in luminescence,” and its “twisting streets leading off into the Quarter, specks of glow lining them.” The hero, while almost a lord, plays the bumpkin to great comedic effect. The novel, however, coasts a bit too long on the charms of a cast that is overly fond of drinking alcohol and smoking “moss.” The majority of the narrative has no central conflict, and the finale’s action arrives suddenly, instigated by an unknown enemy. Still, that finale is orchestrated superbly, leaving readers wanting further exploits.
A detailed, wandering adventure that promises more rewarding clashes to come.