When a high-ranking officer gallops into the quiet Mistyvales, he brings a warning that shakes the countryfolk to their roots. But for Aedan, a scruffy young adventurer with veins full of fire and a head full of ideas, this officer is not what he seems. The events that follow propel Aedan on a journey that only the foolhardy or desperate would risk, leading him to the gates of the nation’s royal academy – a whole world of secrets in itself. But this is only the beginning of his discoveries. Something is stirring in the land, something more ominous than the rising threat of hostile nations. Fearful travellers whisper of an ancient power breathing over Thirna, changing it, waking it. In the very heart of these stirrings, Aedan encounters that which defies belief, leaving him speechless with terror – and wonder.
Renshaw’s enjoyable debut, set in a low-tech fantasy world, ably combines some standard fantasy tropes with more unusual plot elements. Aedan is a precocious lad barely out of boyhood, but he has a knack for strategy that’s far beyond his years, and his abusive father taught him the skills of a forester. None of this enables Aedan to save his friend, Kalry, when Lekran slavers raid the isolated farmstead where both of them live. When others living nearby accuse Aedan of abetting the slavers, he and his family leave home and make a lengthy journey past the abandoned fortress of Kultûhm to the southern city of Castath. His father abandons the family, so Aedan enters the marshal’s academy, hoping to learn enough to avenge himself on the Lekrans. Friends, attractive girls, and bullies all appear in due course, as do adventures into the academy’s forbidden areas. Then Aedan is summoned by Prince Burkhart to take part in an expedition back to Kultûhm. Renshaw mixes a school tale with dungeon crawls and political intrigue, then adds unexplained events and the well-depicted struggles of an abuse victim; surprisingly, all these threads are woven together at the end. He leaves plenty of mysteries to be solved in future volumes while including a good deal of action, intrigue, and growth for his protagonist. (BookLife)