In this debut medieval fantasy, a young man learns how to trace—and, if need be, assassinate—targets both mundane and magical, all the while discovering his own special lineage.
Sixteen-year-old Whym Ellenrond from the RatsNest neighborhood of Riverbend is about to find out his future calling at the Choosing ceremony. He and his best friend, Kira Katona (whom he secretly loves), end up apprenticed in very different fields. She’s to become a tailor, while he takes on the role of seeker. The veteran Stern Sandoval, along with his senior apprentice, Kutan, trains Whym in the art of “catching criminals and bringing them back to face justice.” But no sooner does the trio enter the Wildes than a treacherous incident with its target, Ansel Brosz, show Whym that not all is as it seems in the Lost Land. Meanwhile, First Lord Artifis Fen and the Council of Truth wage war against the tribes of the Fringe even though the text of the Truth “wasn’t meant as a tool to govern.” One tribe, the Dragonborn of Welloch, hosts a young man named Quint, son of the Voice of the Oracle. He’s taught the tribe’s ways by Nikla, a smart, charming young woman who invigorates his religious skepticism. In this first installment of a series, McNeal rains misery on his characters from Page 1, where readers witness Stern’s father turning Whym’s great-grandfather over to the Council of Truth—thereby ending the initial wave of the Reformers Rebellion. At the narrative’s heart is a friction that consumes modern reality: religious interpretation and its place in government. Regarding the Truth and Jah (god), Whym says, “If you strip away the revisions, you’d have Jah’s pure message again.” Elsewhere along the seekers’ journey—through the Forgotten Forest and the Mysts—the author cultivates an elaborate mythos involving Faerie bloodlines. The seekers end up hunting something called the Steward, the last individual of a magical race. From there, a mechanism for unlocking magic—the Unum—links Faerie descendants to the power of the deity Amon. By the end, McNeal’s dense worldbuilding outpaces the rich drama of his worthy characters.
A tale fertile with fantasy concepts—with a plot displaying room to blossom.