Cunder’s debut is a fantasy bildungsroman that chronicles the journey of the young Arius and his dragon through a once-happy land.
In the mystical land of Farahdin, before our young hero Arius is born, the evil Contemno, with magical powers that can make any skeptic disappear in a puff of blackness, stages a bloody coup and ascends to the throne. Once in power, the megalomaniac not only instills fear in his subjects, but he installs creepy portraits of himself in every one of his reluctant subjects’ homes. It is in this tyrannical, dystopian environment that young Arius is born. His parents die a mysterious and vaguely heroic death in the prologue, just tantalizing enough to whet readers’ appetites. When the narrative proper begins, Arius is hawking daggers under the care and tutelage of a man named Lodus, a living compendium of local lore and legend. He regales the young Arius with stories of elves and the lost world of the dragons, which Arius takes as only the entertainments of an old man. But there’s not too much exposition before Arius’ greater destiny comes calling. It’s well-trodden territory in the genre, but Cunder’s lively prose and the pleasure of his interwoven narratives—one chapter in Arius’ present and the next charting Contemno’s rise to wickedness—are as sophisticated as they are easily accessible, with only occasional flourishes of purple prose that seem endemic to the fantasy genre. Indeed, it’s really a book tailored to please the pleasure centers of the fantasy addict, and rarely does it diverge from the archetypal steps the genre demands. However, this adherence to convention is the book’s strength as it doesn’t flail about in avant-garde meanderings. Once the plot starts moving, it rarely lets up and the revelations abound. The final (or is it?) denouement might be rushed a bit too vigorously considering all the build up, but the final battle with Contemno and Arius’ new knowledge of his family history sets the stage for continuation.
A smart, pleasing, unpretentious fantasy that is only the opening movement of a planned series.