Review: DEFENDER OF LLYANS
by Brian C. Hailes
Brian C. Hailes is a professional artist and college-educated illustrator, working at his craft full-time. He’s now published a handful of his own works in addition to the other projects that fill his docket, and he runs the YouTube channel Draw It With Me.
Being an artist, his worlds are very detailed and well-crafted, and his books are better read in print than in the audio format. That said, narrator Jonathan Waters does excellent work bringing the story to life.
On an isolated continent, three very different nations struggle for their way of life—one old and noble, one generally benign, and the last highly ambitious…with a dark streak. As the big-bads rise in power, it’s up to the other two to rally in time to stop them.
Three different races—the verum, the micans, and the gorbane—all live on an isolated landmass (either a large island or a small continent) with long and storied histories against each other. The gorbane are making moves to conquer the whole place, slaughtering mican royals and taking their titles so that their campaign is both tactical…and legal.
It reminded me a little of Sanderson’s ELANTRIS in terms of its political entanglements and the amount of history involved in the central conflict. There’s a lot to follow but the reader is rewarded for doing so.
Each race gets a perspective character. Our ‘verum’ is a young man named Roan who works as a courier in the beginning. His travails will have him crossing paths with Karaya, queen of the ‘micans,’ who finds herself trying to unify different political powers against the rising ‘gorbane’ threat. And our Big Bad of the story is a guy name Amrog, hellbent on overthrowing the other two groups in the name of species supremacy.
The character of Roan was the most likeable, as he’s a “ground-level” character that helps the reader see things from the right angles. Karaya is always playing the diplomacy game so unless you keep a solid handle on the intricacies of the story, she’s more of one that you observe from afar, and Amrog is the zealot who wants to conquer and subjugate.
This is a big subject to tackle, because not only did Hailes put together a detailed geography, he also went all-in on the history and culture and politics of it all. This is a really rich and complex world, and the illustrations fortify that. (Though once again, the narrator performed the roles in the story excellently.)
Perhaps my only nitpick with it is the use of the word “llyans” in the title, as it sounds exactly like “lions,” the flying creatures you see on the cover. They all ride “lions” and yet I wasn’t sure if there was a distinction. The eponymous “Defender of Llyans” is a title given to a prophesied warrior.
Again, I suspect this is cleared up in the print edition. As you listen to the audiobook and get to the end, clarity arrives, so just enjoy the ride.
Only relevant to the monarchies and court intrigues of the world of the book. Nothing from ours.
Remarkably clean. Even the battle scenes, while heavy on the action and unambiguous about the injuries, don’t focus on gore or violence. No sex, no profanity.
Who is it for?
Readers who enjoy Tolkien, Jordan, Sanderson, all those hugely detailed and well-crafted fantasy stories. This one just has a bunch of great art in it as well. Hailes does his own interior illustrations (obviously) and his own covers.
Why read it?
The more epic fantasy I read, the more I appreciate a bold concept well-executed. The visuals of this world make it unique; I could see this as a tabletop RPG with vibrant minifigures shuffled about, adding a layer of engagement. Looking at Hailes’ artwork will give you a huge appreciation for his skill as a realist illustrator, and that makes this fantasy really cool.