Epic fantasy debut, and first of a series, concocted from standard fantasy elements.
For 1,000 years following a great victory against overwhelming odds, the warrior-scholar Knights of the goddess-worshipping Eadorian Church have kept the peace—and condemned as a witch anybody who can work magic. For 10 years, orphan and novice Gair concealed his magic talents but then was discovered, tortured to reveal secrets he did not possess and condemned by the Elders to burn. At his trial, however, Preceptor Ansel, old and in failing health, commutes his sentence to branding and exile—to the outrage of an opposing faction within the church. With the help of wise old Alderan, who's secretive but clearly magical himself, Gair escapes the persistent attentions of a witchfinder sent by Ansel's opposition. Eventually they arrive on Penglas, an island in the distant west where Alderan and the Guardians of the Veil run a school for gifted individuals like Gair. Meanwhile, roving Gatekeeper Masen has learned that the Veil separating the world from the Hidden Kingdom is weakening, and hurries back to Penglas to warn Alderan. Gair, now that he no longer fears his own capabilities, embraces his exceptional powers and abilities. While a dying Ansel tries to hold on to his authority within the church, Gair and Alderan ponder the dwindling Veil and the approach of one of Alderan's former students, Savin, a renegade of unrivaled might and malevolence. Odd that a goddess-worshipping cult has an all-male priesthood or even much of a congregation. Still, the characters are believable and grow with their roles, the plot unfolds steadily and the writing conveys scenes and dialogue with impressive clarity, even to the rousing finale.
Cooper makes no great claim to originality, but the absorbing narrative and sheer quality of the production will keep readers impatiently awaiting the next installment.