Author: Jacob Gowans
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Length: 400 pages
Enter Atolas, a world where swords and daggers both extend life and end it, where magic is feared by all but a few, and where feuds and friendships influence kingdoms and courtships.
Henry and Isabelle have secretly sworn to marry despite his lowly station as a carpenter, but his devotion to her drives him to commit an unthinkable act that may cost both of them their lives.
At the same time, a secret, dark prophecy has set in motion events that will affect not only them, but the thrones of rulers throughout all of Atolas, threatening to eclipse the world in shadow. But all is not lost while hope remains in the guise of an unlikely hero and the strength of friendship.
Characters: This book has a rather large ensemble cast. There are six characters on the run from the King's Guard, one dark and evil emperor, and a narrator of sort who begins this book in first person. I'm not sure if the first person narrator at the beginning of the book was a way for the author to write himself into his own story or if there's some deeper meaning behind it. As for the six travelers, well, to be honest there are only one or two I felt were really compelling. In all honesty, for me a lot of these characters, while strong, didn't feel as compelling as they should. They were kind of archetypal characters and it was only when they acted outside of their set character that they even became remotely interesting. There are two villains in this book, early on it's Isabelle's father and then later it's the Emperor. Both of them are black-hearted and completely devoid of anything resembling goodness. While I understand to some extant why Isabelle's father is the way he is, we never really got a good feel for why the emperor is so evil
Romance: Much like most of the characters in this book I didn't find the romance all that compelling either. It's an established romance which isn't inherently bad, though it's not a good sign. We never really got to see how Henry and Isabelle fell in love and there wasn't much interaction between the two that wasn't just a discussion of what to do next. There was no chemistry, no spark between the two that I could grab onto and fell like I was rooting for them. Henry and Isabelle weren't the only romance in this book, though they were the most obvious. There is another romance but it's very subtle and if these characters actions weren't so obvious I probably wouldn't have noticed it until much later. I hope that in the next adventure I find a way to really root for these couples.
World-Building: Enter Atolas, which appears to be the name of the continent and not the country which kind of threw me off at first. This is a fantasy world much like other fantasy worlds, as in it's based off of medieval Europe. I was really hoping for a much better magic system in this book. I get that's only used by a few, but we barely even got to see any magic at all in this book. Actually all of the key selling points for this book were kind of disappointing. If not for a small part of one scene and a casual mention I wouldn't believe there was such a thing as magic in this world, the dark prophecy mentioned in the synopsis just turned out to be straightforward directions for the emperor to follow, and I really wasn't feeling the romance and relationships between the characters. Not to mention the fact that this book felt much too long for the amount of story inside. I'm not quite sure how to describe it but it felt as though there was just a lot of bloat and only a handful of moments that were fast paced, most of them at the end.
Predictability: It was very easy to predict certain things such as "That character shouldn't be trusted" and "Oh, I know it was that character who did that." However I never really understood quite what the motivations behind those things were, and that was where the surprise came in. Also, since Goodreads didn't label this book as a series, but I knew there was another that took place in this world, I had assumed that this series was a companion novel series, however I was completely wrong and was instead treated to a rather unfinished ending.
Ending: So the final climax of this book was pretty awesome. It came in a few parts, all told from the third person POVs of various characters. It was a rather epic climactic event, leading to a rather predictable end, had I known that this was a traditional series. The cooldown after the climax was rather long, having been told from multiple POVs again, but there are some vital pieces of information here that explain some of the motivations behind certain characters. The very end is a massive cliffhanger, disguised by a plateaued ending when the book shifts back to first person.
So I debated with myself for hours on what to rate this book, It's entertaining, but it just never really blew me away. There is much promise in these characters and this story though, so I'll be interested to see what happens next.