by P. C. Darkcliff
Life is relatively simple for woodsman Baard Thon in the small village of Icecreek in the realm of Thorstorm. His days are spent logging for firewood, looking after his family, and roistering with best friend, Hareth Corwyn, whose sister, Diara, Baard hopes to marry.
But then, a mysterious fog swirls through Icecreek leaving its inhabitants partially sightless, all except Baard. As the villagers realize the fog is the curse of a Wrathlord, Icecreek is raided and Diara captured, it becomes clear that seemingly ordinary Baard has an extraordinary destiny …
In The Wizard’s Blade, Darkcliff has deployed everything and more that he learned in writing his earlier series, The Deathless Chronicles* to produce a truly accomplished, highly intelligent, and imaginative fantasy steeped in legend, myth, and magic.
Technically, it’s brilliantly constructed. Not only flawlessly edited, which is no mean feat in a novel of this length but Darkcliff has considered the reader and how best to unfold this mammoth story from all angles and perspectives, whilst consistently sparking curiosity and driving momentum.
The main thrust of the narrative is nicely straightforward. A likable yet supposedly unremarkable village boy sets forth on a quest that he has little chance of completing successfully. Along the way, he meets a vibrant, diverse, and often dangerous collection of people, some of great help and some of great hindrance.
Darkcliff takes this reassuringly epic story and turns it into a fresh and inventive novel. He knows what a reader wants in epic fantasy but also knows he’s more than good enough to take them off, what can be, a well-trodden path with a host of sub-plots, the only one of which I felt a touch unnecessary involved “The Order”.
There are tropes, but they are cunningly deployed and Darkcliff’s prose is writerly with a deep vein of intellectual sophistication. His descriptive imagery is beautifully evoking, it’s clear that Darkcliff fully inhabits the vivid and beguiling worlds he creates, and is constantly at pains to ensure the reader does too, without it feeling forced or stagey.
The narrative is brushed with foreshadowing but Darkcliff loves a little subversion and throws many a nicely credible yet unexpected twist to keep the pages turning. He is adept at involving characters in situations where there seems absolutely no way out; until there is, Darkcliff-style.
The prologue hits the ground running, literally. Visual, fast-paced, and packed with a deceptive amount of narrative detail even at this early stage. It’s an immediate, intriguing hook consolidated by the first chapter when the reader is introduced to eighteen-year-old, Baard Thon and his blind twin sister, Elya.
Darkcliff gave himself a heroic feat to write Elya with continuity and credibility (as well as all the other characters who exist in near-blindness) and he more than capably tackles it without Elya’s sightlessness defining her. Her relationships with Fierran, her guide wolf, and Ruah, the soothsayer, to whom she is apprenticed are touching and complex.
All the cast are well-rounded, original, and interesting to read. The Mages and the Tik’Haaney are so engaging and could have easily been stock, one-dimensional portrayals but Darkcliff ensures complete individuality, nuance, and usefulness within the plot, even if it’s not immediately apparent. He also takes some brave decisions with character trajectories that never feel gratuitous and always have a purpose within the framework of the story.
There is so much imagination on display in The Wizard’s Blade, from the immersive mythical landscapes that never become dense to the nastily believable monsters, the Corpsentinels and Gravelackers being especially unpleasant. His action scenes are excellently choreographed with a real swashbuckling old-school feel and complete cohesion.
The Wizard’s Blade is a rich tapestry of a novel. Tremendously entertaining, wonderfully imaginative, and thoroughly absorbing. Darkcliff brilliantly draws on several genres, not just fantasy, to guarantee a compulsive page-turner that promises much for the next installments. Highly recommended.
*Details and reviews of The Deathless Chronicles, can be found here