First-time author Johnson gives his first installment of a planned two-part fantasy adventure.
Fourteen-year-old Areli Roberts is the new racer of dragons in Emperor Ailesh’s coliseum, but what originally seems like an honor turns out to be a curse. The evil emperor is in the midst of a hunt for Degendhard the Great, an aspiring usurper who is growing in popularity among the emperor’s impoverished subjects. (The psychopathic emperor makes for an excellent villain, first appearing shirtless in a blue trench coat, exuding the perfect combination of lechery and violent mania.) Areli’s father takes in Talon, one of Degendhard’s messengers who is badly injured. Areli quickly falls in love—the way teenagers are prone to do—and after heartbreak and separation, though they don’t spend much of the novel together, their love influences much of the rest of the story, even when a new romantic interest comes into Areli’s life. Johnson’s novel grabs attention from the very first scene, piling intense and suspenseful situations on top of each other. This is also a book full of secrets and surprises. Just enough information is withheld to keep the reader curious, an effective storytelling technique that is not often pulled off as well as in these pages. The writing tends to be spare and does not dwell on lengthy descriptions or expositions, though the author has a knack for a good one-liner. Johnson skillfully navigates adventure but sometimes flubs the love scenes with clichéd dialogue or seen-it-before subplots. Still, this is an enjoyable read. The story never dulls or drags, and the thrilling, suspenseful plotting keeps the pages turning.
A dark, well-plotted fantasy adventure.