Born in fire. Tempered in blood.
Epheria is a land divided by war and mistrust. The High Lords of the south squabble and fight, only kept in check by the Dragonguard, traitors of a time long past, who serve the empire of the North.
In the remote villages of southern Epheria, still reeling from the tragic loss of his brother, Calen Bryer prepares for The Proving—a test of courage and skill that not all survive.
But when three strangers arrive in the village of Milltown, with a secret they are willing to die for, Calen’s world is ripped from under him and he is thrust headfirst into a war that has been raging for centuries.
There is no prophecy. His coming was not foretold.
He bleeds like any man, and bleed he will.
I can’t believe it took me so long to read this book. I’ve had it on my Kindle for over seven months after picking it up in response to the great reviews I’d already seen about it. Now having read it, I can say that this should have been a TBR-stopping addition to my collection, but at least I won’t have a long wait for book two to see what happens next (I already have an ARC of it on my bookshelf 😊).
From the very first words, I was sucked completely into this world. Ryan Cahill writes in such a way that everything comes alive and leaps off the page. There was the perfect amount of description and imagery balanced with realistic dialogue and gritty action. The dialogue, in particular, really brought the characters to life and gave each of them a unique voice, and the imagery made me feel like I was right there beside them as they went on their epic journey. The world-building was exquisite and engaging with a fresh look at familiar fantasy races (giants, dwarves, elves, etc.) and an interesting magical system. I particularly loved the weapons that could be summoned by magic even though they played a much smaller role here than they did in The Fall.
The plot and tropes of this story were very reminiscent of other epic high fantasy books. For the most part, the story follows the coming-of-age tale of Calen, a nobody born in a small outlying town who gets wrapped up in events of legend and joins the fight against the evil empire to avenge those he lost when he finds out he has special abilities. It reminded me a lot of the work of Tolkien and Jordan, but I honestly think I liked this book better because it doesn’t suffer from the pacing problems seen in those other works. I also really liked how Cahill didn’t conform to the typical chosen one trope of being foretold by prophecy. It made Calen’s role much more impactful because all of the characters had been holding out hope someone like him would return one day even though they had no idea when, or even if, it would happen. The lack of certainty over how it will all turn out also highlighted the importance of Calen’s choices and actions in the present, which created a high level of suspense, especially toward the end of the novel.
There wasn’t a single character I didn’t like reading about in this book. No matter how small their part, each one of them felt fully fleshed out as a person. If I had to pick, though, I’d probably choose Rist and Calen as my favorite characters. How could I not love Rist? He was seriously traveling around in the forest carrying a giant book and chose to spend time reading rather than socializing. I’m pretty sure he is my spirit character, and I hope he plays a larger role in the series moving forward. As for Calen, I enjoyed seeing his growth in this novel. He started out as a somewhat naive boy who became shattered by loss before learning about and reluctantly embracing his role in the struggle against the empire. His bond with Valerys was one of my favorite things about the story, and I loved watching it grow along with the characters. I always love a good animal companion. When that companion happens to be a baby dragon? Even better!
Overall, I loved everything about this book. It feels familiar due to its reliance on common tropes, but the elements come together in a way that feels fresh and engaging. The characters and world-building were fantastic and engrossing, and the ending definitely left me wanting more. Therefore, I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars!