Butler’s debut YA fantasy offers the tale of a young boy who becomes the unwitting guardian of a precious artifact that all sorts of creatures desire.
Fifteen-year-old Tyler Finch is an orphan, but he has an extended family who cares for him in the village of Elliun. This changes when beastly men called ghatu attack the villagers. In the midst of the onslaught, Hargill, the loquacious town senior, bequeaths a spider-rock to the boy and declares him to be the “Avalon-Qwa,” both of which Tyler doesn’t comprehend. The wounded Hargill further demands that Varkon, a recently captured ghatu, take a sacred oath to protect Tyler. The new, reluctant companions journey to the city of Ithrim to seek answers from a man named Haranio. Tyler, however, starts having troubling dreams that he believes are premonitions. One dream in particular leads him to suspect that a man wants to murder him. Overall, this is a brisk, appealing story teeming with action and suspense. The narrative momentum is impressive and striking, as the trio travels for much of the book, on the run from ghatu and engaged in conflict with numerous creatures on land and at sea. Distrust is also a major theme: Tyler isn’t sure whether he can rely on Varkon or Haranio, and later, a ship’s crew blames Tyler for leading the murderous ghatu to their village. No fantasy is complete without mythical beasts, and Butler doesn’t disappoint, as the group faces a shape-shifter, kidnapping imps, and a giant, wormlike myloth. The villains, too, are suitably menacing; the spiked, iron-masked Dhimori commands the ghatu’s assault, while the baddies’ leader, known only as “She,” is terrifying despite never making an appearance. There are abundant mysteries throughout, including the reason why the ghatu are pursuing the group (and specifically Tyler), as well as the significance of the spider-stone, the spider tattoos that suddenly materialize on Tyler’s skin, and his recurring dreams. These are all answered in a closing explanation that goes on for a bit too long, but it does adequately set the stage for a planned second book.
A thoroughly animated fantasy, and a commendable series introduction.