A debut historical fantasy sees a peasant boy, orphaned by raiders, taken in and trained by a solitary old man whose very name is legend.
Fourteen-year-old Darius lives in a small village on the outskirts of what used to be the Chungoku Empire, a vast realm resonant of dynastic China. It has been 30 years since the empire fell. Barons now rule the land; the people are happy. But then raiders come to Darius’ village. His brother is killed and his mother captured. Vowing to rescue his mother, Darius sets off in pursuit of the marauders. This hopeless undertaking seems certain to end badly, but Darius meets an old hunter—Arthengal—who offers to teach him swordsmanship and survival skills. Arthengal lives in a secluded valley. If Darius will join him there, Arthengal will prepare him for the quest that lies ahead. Though impatient, Darius agrees. Thus begins the student-teacher relationship that will change and define his life. Arthengal is also known as Nasu Rabi (which means “Old Bear in the old tongue”) and is a hero of the civil war. Under his instruction, and listening to his stories, Darius grows to become a man. But even after 30 years, is the war truly over? And what of the other bear in Darius’ life—the one he blinded in an eye with an arrow and that to this day follows him? Darius believes it is the embodiment of Antu, the sky god, sent to test him. When the day comes to resume the hunt for his mother, will Darius be ready? In this series opener, Roley has an easy writing style, narrating in the third person mostly from Darius’ point of view but occasionally from the perspectives of minor characters as well. The resulting storyline has epic scope yet an intimate feel, pulling readers along familiar paths but in a manner that doesn’t seem forced. The dialogue is a little stylized but mostly quite natural. Even though the tale in this first book is as much about Arthengal as Darius, fans of the genre will find a comfortable familiarity in this mentoring phase of the teen’s journey. This skillful story bodes well for future adventures.
A conventional but well-rendered take on quest fantasy’s master-apprentice trope.