Young lovers flee the clutches of a scheming emperor in this ponderous series opener.
Gowans threads his tale with disguised Christian elements, though he’s no C.S. Lewis. Henry—master carpenter and peacemaker, stubbornly loyal to friends even after they betray him—dramatically rescues his drugged sweetheart, Isabelle, who has been sold to a sinister visiting ruler from an adjacent country by her despicable father. He then rides for the border with four contentious allies and a fortune in gold coins. The fugitives’ most persistent problems prove to be not their inept pursuers but their own moral failings. Amid constant arguments and sharpening suspicion, the gold begins to disappear, various members sneak away on mysterious errands, several harbor hinted-at secrets, and one turns out to be a traitor. Along with being light on suspense and ambling of pace, this epic features a poorly realized setting and a cast in which not only do certain minor characters show more facets than major ones, but the women do little aside from coming along, needing rescue or, following a climactic ambush, being paraded in a cage. The end leaves the company scattered, but the internecine conflict at least is resolved as two members beg to be forgiven their trespasses and at least one gets a kiss of peace.
Occasional sparks of inspiration fail to kindle a sodden heap of anemic roles and tropes. (free prequel available for download) (Fantasy. 12-14)