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D. C. Armstrong
Cassius and Ellendarra
All that stands between the realm of Evlontus and complete destruction, is Cassius. Within his soul, a terrifying dark force that had at one point threatened to destroy them all, is imprisoned, and with each passing day he can feel himself beginning to lose control over it. It is up to his brother, King Magnus, and his deceitful machinations, to find ways to repress and ultimately destroy the evil entity once and for all. Ellendarra enters their lives just as things begin to unravel and destiny takes the three of them down an unexpected path towards the ultimate battle between good and evil.
Centered on magic, inheritance, and prophesy, Armstrong’s enthralling debut fantasy tests the power of good against the power of evil while delving into heady questions of destiny versus free will. Cassius, a prince known for his pure heart and soul, was adopted by King Varimus of Evlontus, already the father of an existing son, Magnus. While the princes were still young, King Varimus managed to save the realms from a powerful evil entity created by the bad choices of the people. Saving the day meant agreeing to let the entity bind with Cassius, though Cassius was able to control the evil. Years later, a jealous Magnus frames Cassius for the king’s murder and then puts him into a deep sleep for years, while Magnus rules the kingdom. But Cassius awakens and, as foretold in prophecy, meets Ellendarra, kicking off a complex battle of light and dark.

Rather than a clear “good guy” or “bad guy,” Armstrong creates characters who are tortured by perceptions of goodness and evil. “Evlontians know that with each act they commit, they empower either the darkness or the light,” he writes, a philosophy that inspires the fear that harboring any darkness inside oneself they must make one evil, as well as the conviction that if a choice benefits the greater good, no matter how evil it may seem, it must still be good. Readers will likely relate to Magnus the most, as his internal conflict and fears make his struggles often seem more difficult than Cassius’s, who literally fights the darkness inside him.

As Cassian armies clash with Evlontians, characters and readers alike will wonder about the nature of prophecy, since each intense battle’s outcome and each character’s choice appears to be already set for them. Armstrong suggests, though, interpretation is everything, and that choice and prophecy can be the same. The detailed, sometimes dense story line and insight into character and history will please fans of thoughtful fantasy.

Takeaway: Fantasy readers will find the swords, sorcery, and magical entities they’re looking for in this high-stakes war of good versus evil.

Great for fans of:Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon's Daughter, Eve Forward’s Villains by Necessity.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: C
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A