Review: Sworn to the Light (Avatar Wizard #1)
Today's review sees author Denton Salle creating a new fantasy world.
It has wizards, Russian folklore, necromancers and dark magic, and adorable panda cub.
This is not your typical magic school novel.
Eleven-year-old Jeremy has a slight problem. Seemingly no reason whatsoever, he randomly turns into a panda cub. His father takes him to see the greatest of the living volkh wizards, Master Anthony ... who Jeremy's father calls "Tony."
The world of the volkh has students who call lightning, raises golems, or talks to the dead.
But it's not all fluffy bears and understanding professors. To advance through the levels of study, there are rites of passage that are more than just formalities. This power (technically not magic) comes either the Light or the Dark, and neither is forgiving towards the other.
But when a new threat arises, can Jeremy survive when it comes calling?
Much of the book is character driven, not so much by plot. However, there's nothing wasted here. These aren't character studies. There is even the standard bully in the novel. But unlike some school bullies, he's relevant to the overall plot.
Denton explained to me that this was originally the first quarter of a large novel. Much like Lord of the Rings, it sort of comes to a dead stop. But the the action has slowed down by the time this book stops, so the reader doesn't get whiplash.
Even the writing is awesome. At one point in thee novel, we get a high fantasy after action report. Upon discovery of some fairly nasty horrors perpetrated by those who worship "the dark," the result was reported as
"At [discovering] this, the volkva left all restraint as a man leaves an empty wineskin, and the shadows bloomed with deadly flowers. Any with a taint of the dark died."
Tell me that doesn't sound like an after action report classic fantasy authors wouldn't have loved to have written.
Jeremy is ... a kid. A good kid, but a kid. He develops nicely over the course of this book, showing more personality than some magic school protagonists I can name. He's smart and curious, and stubborn enough to keep hitting his head against the wall of a problem until it gives. It's not so much that's he's powerful at his age, but that he applies the world building in different ways. He doesn't know the rules of this power, so he doesn't know he can't do something. You can see his evolution through the novel, even just by the nature of his observations.
Even "his bear" has a character. How? For example:
"[To the bear] Jeremy insisted that they shouldn't eat people, and the bear argued that people who hurt friends weren't really people."
Master Anthony is a fun character. He's a bit of a nerd who prefers his research, dislikes people, and is married to a redhead healer who is a real fox (sometimes literally). And then, when it's time to throw down, he goes from curmudgeon academic to Saruman before he went bad.
I even appreciate the dark sense of humor ("The volkva would even serve an enemy. Well, yes, because sleepy, well-fed foes were easier to kill.")
The world is as well built as the characters. Denton Salle carries out world building and exposition like David Weber; there are no data dumps, but the information is conveyed in stories within the narration, and tied into little details along the way. It's also fun to go from the land where Jeremy grew up, which knows nothing of magic, to a very casual attitude towards it.
Like with other fantasy we've reviewed here, it's nice to have a fantasy world built from traditions that aren't Western Europe. The land is obviously Eastern Europe, with a distinct blend of local cultures ... "local" in this case casting a wide net. And Denton Salle has a great visual style to show off this mix. It's basically a mythological blender. And there are a lot of little magic touches as well, including a Time Lord suitcase that's bigger on the inside.
There are even enough details around the development of metal working to show that Denton knows his stuff there, too. And it becomes relevant to the story when it comes to using "the flows" of power.
Even the time period is interesting, since "the dark" has basically been put in its place. This looks like a time period after Lord of the Rings, so everything is nice and quiet, and there's no threat whatsoever... right? Heh heh heh.
The development of the enemy of this book is simple and straight forward.
"All of the Dark's power came from death, whether the sacrifice of victims or the defilement of the dead. It was because of the latter that the volkhvy burned their dead."
Nope, not creepy at all.
Most of the politics is that of the world. Even then, it's mostly "evil exists, and it needs to be killed."
When Lord of the Rings is broadcast on television, it's labeled with a warning of "Fantasy violence." Pretty much what we have here. Body parts are severed by swords, but Denton doesn't linger on blood spurting. Even when someone is cut in their femoral artery, blood isn't even mentioned.
Despite there being a lot of shape-shifting, there's no nudity.
Who is it for?
By the stupid rules of traditional publishing, as our character is a kid, therefore this must be YA. But like Narnia, this is too good to be wasted on children.
To be honest, if you're a fan of Jim Butcher's Codex Alera, you will want to read this book. It has depth of world building, but with a different mythology.
Why read it?
Because this is a great new high fantasy world that's as well written as any author you can think of.
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