Five teenagers who have nothing in common—a hunter, a soldier, a servant, a princess, and a thief—soon find themselves at the center of a war thanks to new discoveries about demon smoke, an opiumlike drug.
King Aloysius is still bitter over the war he lost to Calidor and will stop at nothing to exact revenge: This is the catalyst for our five heroes’ journeys, whether they at first realize it or not. With each chapter told from a different character’s perspective, readers get a feel for the various worlds within the story but are still left sensing that something is lacking: Rather than an immersive fantasy world, it is a medieval world with a spattering of underdeveloped fantasy thrown in. Aloysius and his son are comically, mustache-twirlingly evil. The two love stories (one between two boys, and one a classic love triangle between a girl and two boys) feel halfhearted due in part to the relationships not being fully fleshed out. With so many characters, none get the full attention they deserve. Ethnic diversity, including multiracial identities (one major character has blue eyes, blonde dreadlocks, and brown skin), both mirrors reality as well as featuring fantasy races.
With expletives and violence that seem more for shock value than to advance the story, and plenty of action but an abrupt ending, readers will hope for more meat in the next volume. (Fantasy. 15-18)