Far away from home, under the command of his brother, Raylan and his squad must retrieve an ancient relic stolen from their kingdom’s trading partner—the Tiankong Empire.
Traveling deep into unknown enemy territory to complete their mission, Raylan learns that the ancient relic holds unexpected life; a creature buried in legends, one not seen in their world for more than two hundred years.
With their enemies closing in, Raylan and his friends search, desperately, for a safe way home. Danger lurks around every corner: Warriors larger than any man, predators stalking them through the night and soldiers determined to hunt them down. Leaving them all little choice, except to keep moving as they strategically plot—and skillfully fight—their way back to those awaiting their return.
Well, this was such a refreshing read! At first I wasn’t sure what to make of it, I thought it would be another fantasy story with a lot of dudes battling each other and a rather grim outlook. And while it did have a lot of dudes battling (and at least one lady), it was a pretty heart-felt epic fantasy about a guy and his dragon. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some grim parts as well, but the overall tone becomes pretty hopeful partway into the story.
I loved the way the book started off, right away we’re thrust into the world and learn that there are some pretty bad folks out there. This first opening bit was very well written with quite an emotional impact. This really set the stage for things to come.
From there we’re taken to a band of warriors sent on a mission from their king along with a foreign dignitary (of sorts) to help their allies retrieve an precious relic that was taken from them. Right away we learn what kind of fighters our heroes are, how they are methodical and like to use strategy, which I appreciated (I love when folks use actual strategy instead of just running headlong into battle without a plan!) Their band is on the smaller side and eventually we’ll get to know all of the group, but it’s Raylan, a sailor turned soldier, and his older brother Gavin, the leader of the group, who we spend the most time with. I do appreciate that we get to know the side characters eventually as well not only because it made you care about what happened to them, but it made for richer storytelling overall.
Several encounters between our group and the antagonists make for some first rate action scenes as our characters are first on retrieval duty and then fleeing while the enemy has them boxed in and is hot on their heels. I appreciated the cinematic quality of a few of these sections–one when they’re fleeing over a bridge that crosses a deep ravine/gorge, and the final encounter I found especially engaging. The action kept the pace of the story going well, but I also appreciated the more leisurely parts of the story where we got to spend time getting to know our characters.
Once the dragon shows up in the story is where things really went from good to great for me. The relationship between Raylan and Galirras was my favorite part of the book. Raylan has to teach the young dragon all sorts of things while also looking out for his well-being. Not only is the dragon a national treasure, but he’s a living being and possibly the last of his kind. That’s a lot of pressure! Galirras is like a little kid at times, and shows an acute sense of awareness at others. He’s very much his own character, not a treasure to be given to someone. He eventually becomes a huge asset to the party and a great friend as well. The interactions between the dragon and the humans brought some much needed lightness to the story.
As for criticisms, only a couple small detractors and nothing that took too much away from the overall experience of the story for me where the good far outweighed any of the bad. There was a little bit too much exposition here and there, but not so much it was overwhelming, only wish the info could have been conveyed in a less exposition-y way. Also, regarding the villains–I appreciated seeing things from their POV’s but I think that sometimes they were shown to be evil in a way that felt a little too on the nose and didn’t bring anything fresh to the table. That being said, this is probably a personal preference and it’s a very minor thing overall. Generally I did like the bad guys, especially as the each seem to have their own agenda. It’s like layers of bad guys. It’s bad guys all the way down.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I’m looking forward to continuing on to the next book. 4/5 stars.