Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Emissary: Review

What if, after growing up in a remote farming village, you suddenly discovered that you didn’t belong there? What if you learned that you could wield incredible power? What if the power you wield hints that you belong to an accursed race of people, exiled, destroyed, and nearly forgotten?

Welcome back, and welcome to the new year!
I’m starting off 2015 with a review for the first book in a new fantasy series. It’s written under a new nom de plume, but by an author who is an old favorite. Emissary is Davis Bunn’s foray into epic fantasy, writing under the name Thomas Locke. Thomas Locke is a pseudonym created by Bunn as part of his efforts to branch out into fantasy from his usual adventure/thriller novels.

In Emissary, Hyam is an outcast farm-boy with an unusual knack for learning a particular dead language and a grudge against the mages who dragged him away from his favorite study and forced him to learn Elvish instead. Of course, for ordinary people, neither language is any good, since the mysterious races who once spoke them are long vanished.

Outside of Hyam’s village, however, dark powers have instigated revolution and devastation across the country. A series of attacks force Hyam out of his village and bring him together with two other misfits. Together, they gather the first of a resistance. Along the way, Hyam learns a lot about the world.

To be honest, I had some small issues with the book—there’s a lot of world-building in the introduction. Locke spends a fair bit of time introducing his character and explaining the backstory. You need the info to understand what’s going on, but the best suggestion I have is to skim through it and wait for things to pick up after a few chapters. Along with that, the story follows a pretty typical fantasy scenario—young man of unknown, mysterious heritage, just coming of age with an onslaught of highly unusual powers.

Some fantasy stories veer toward inner conflict as the protagonist learns to understand and use his powers, but Emissary takes a different approach. The story doesn’t lack for conflict, but Hyam does feel at times improbably competent for someone who grew up in a hick village. Once he meets his first challenge, he moves almost at once from farm-boy to leader. After that, one or two miscreants get in his way, but otherwise people seem to cooperate with him. They have good reason to—given the power that he controls—and presumably he learned a thing or two during his education with the mages.

As far as the rest of the cast goes, a young woman named Joelle adds some spunk to the cast, and she in turn is balanced out by Hyam’s other sidekick—an old mage at odds with most of his community. I liked both characters well enough and thought they added depth to the story with both fun and tragedy.

More importantly, apart from a few lurches along the way, the story does rise to an intense, earth-shaking climax. There are lots of theatrics thrown in, but the heart of the story comes down to Hyam’s power and how he uses.

If you are interested in the book, you can read several chapters of it for free from Amazon, as the short-story The Captive. You might also like to check out this post on Thomas Locke's blog with a series of Q & A links.

[My thanks to Net Galley and Revell for sending me an electronic ARC copy of Emissary in exchange for my honest opinion of the book.]