In this debut fantasy, a schoolteacher is thrust into a contest for a medieval throne.
In 1924, Rhissan “Rhiss” Griffith teaches English literature at the Darkton School. Though only 25, he feels that his life has become a joyless slog, except when he and confidant Alistair practice their swordsmanship and archery. One day, Rhiss notices a richly decorated door in the school where it shouldn’t be. Behind it is a librarylike setting where he soon meets someone named Brother Gavrilos. He commiserates with Rhiss on his plight and encourages him to choose a life of difficulty and adventure by entering a second door, opposite the first. Before leaving for the realm of Arrinor, where he’s to help the rightful King win back the Crystal Throne, Rhiss receives magical items, including the Circlet of Araxis and a matching dagger. Once through the portal, he saves a young gryphon from flying creatures called Malmoridai; he names the orphaned creature Aquilea. Soon he encounters the Sovereign’s Men, who are about to harm a mother and daughter. Rhiss dispatches the brigands, then miraculously heals the daughter’s mortal wound. Does some sort of spiritual magic flow through Rhiss? Debut author Ranshaw crafts a literary epic apparently inspired by grand classics such as T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (1958) and the poems of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He sends Rhiss not only to find the King but to master himself spiritually (with the help of a woman named Arian) and make ethical choices in a world savaged by the corrupt Usurper. Ranshaw’s prose is sharp and absorbing, with characters often discussing every facet of a situation before taking action. Major events are preceded by plenty of traveling, but they are worth the wait (“A roiling wave of dense, grey mist advanced swiftly and silently across the Moor from the south, a wave hundreds of feet high”). A scene in which a legendary sword appears is truly breathtaking. Monotheism and gender equality also prove to be engaging themes, which will hopefully reappear in the sequel.
Fabulously layered mythmaking.