In a land of prophecy and magic, a young boy proves that individuals still have a choice in Barr’s (Grasshopper in the Ant Hill, 2011) children’s fantasy tale, the first in a planned series.
Orphaned Brannoch has grown up hearing the enigmatic Mr. Gern’s heroic tales of Tal Rij, a hero credited with defending the world against the evil tyrant Lord Bedlam and his Iron Order. As a small boy who has trouble facing his own village bullies, he doesn’t expect ever to achieve greatness. But when Brannoch’s sister is killed in her sleep by a shadow creature, Gern rushes Brannoch away from his village and hands him off to Ein Ulani, a skilled sorceress. Brannoch finds himself heading into an unknown future, as adults around him decide his destiny. After he has a fateful conversation with a capable, beautiful girl named Leli, he realizes he must start taking control of his own life. During their talk, he claims not to believe in fate: “That our lives are laid out ahead of time and we’re just going through a set of actions to get to some fixed point?…What would be the point of…of anything?” Later, a monster fighter named Calion also encourages the boy to make his own way in life, and Brannoch soon discovers that, in making his own choices, he may end up confronting the same evil that Tal Rij once fought. The story is reminiscent of David Eddings’ early works, but its focus on individual choice makes it unlike many other fantasy tales, where prophecy often plays an important part. Barr gives the novel’s secondary characters strong personalities, although the novel’s brevity doesn’t allow for extensive character development. The conclusion, with its slightly rushed final battle, leaves room for the story to grow in later installments.
A strong opening to a children’s fantasy series.