In this debut fantasy adventure novel, a young man, an acolyte in a mystic tradition, embarks on a diplomatic mission that tests his calling.
While the citizens of the Archayan Republic have the gift of winged flight, they still use preindustrial technology. But two other realms, the United Crowns (the Union) and the Sovereign Crown, are reaping the benefits and problems of machinery. Their progress affects Archaya when the Sovereign Crown supplies a rebel faction, the Imperialists, with firearms. Harius, 16, is training as a Zehnarch in the Hamystic Faith, but struggles to feel connected with the Divine. Nevertheless, he’s chosen as steward of two ancient relics, the Key of Agency and the Sword Shazeera, which have the power to unlock the Ethereal Gates and usher in a new age. He must, says his grandfather and mentor, “learn the true art of prayer” to “wield the Celestial Flame,” which makes all things possible. With a party that includes his best friend, 17-year-old Jesrum, Harius is sent on a mission to negotiate a treaty between Archaya and the Union. The Union’s high king is willing, but in return, Harius and Jesrum must recover the monarch’s cousin, Niccolon, a gifted scientist kidnapped by the Sovereign Crown, and discover what’s happened to the ruler’s missing daughter, Princess Ellezandra. Recovering the two, and preventing disaster for Archaya, will require Harius to break through the barriers between himself and the Divine. Will his faith prevail? In his tale, Watts does some intriguing worldbuilding; for example, the technology divide, which creates social differences in standards of living, is a realistic conflict. The plot and the Hamystic faith bear some obvious resemblances to the Star Wars series and the Force, but the author skillfully handles both. Harius’ spiritual struggle with despair and apathy is believable and moving, and the action leads up to an exciting, tense final showdown. Disappointingly, women are almost absent from the story as decision-makers, with beautiful Ellezandra serving too obviously as a quest object/reward for Harius: “She stared at him with open admiration…which caused his heart to swell with ecstasy.”
An absorbing coming-of-age quest tale with few female leaders.