Plot: Well-paced and often exciting, author Wilborn's first volume in his "King of Caves" series unspools its journeys and mysteries with confidence. Wilborn combines familiar epic fantasy elements -- a boy of mysterious provenance from a backwater town called to adventure -- with an entertaining chase plot, showing readers enough of villain Lord Evasius' scheming to generate suspense. That said, there's little suspense in story beats involving a prophecy and the temporary sundering of a fellowship, as only newbies to epic fantasy won't guess their resolution.
Prose/Style: Wilborn's tale deserves high marks for its compelling, purposeful prose. While the novel is long, Wilborn wastes few words. He crafts memorable sentences, describes action with rare vigor and clarity, and sometimes pens passages of beauty. The hero, Kurian, seeing a star for the first time in his life, makes for a moving and evocative scene. Occasional passages detailing the history of the land of Pallingham are suitably mythic.
Originality: That prose distinguishes a story that in outline too often resembles epic
fantasies of a generation ago, reveling in old tropes rather than upending or interrogating them.
Character Development: The novel is at its most compelling when in the head of protagonist Kurian, a young acolyte who struggles some in the role of prophecy-touted adventurer. In the strongest passages, he responds to the beats of a fantasy story like an actual person might. The rest of the cast tends toward stock types, though the (often absent) heroine Louise is a warm and welcome presence, mostly because Wilborn invests great energy into her passion for horses.
Date Submitted: May 16, 2019