This is another of the books stacked up by my bedside that I have taken far too long to get around to reading…
Isak is a white-eye, born bigger, more charismatic and more powerful than normal men… but with that power comes an unpredictable temper and an inner rage. Feared and despised by those around him, he dreams of a place in the army and a chance to live his own life, but the Gods have other plans for the intemperate teenager. Isak has been Chosen as heir-elect to the brooding Lord Bahl, the white-eye Lord of the Farlan. Typical of the breed, Lord Bahl inspires and oppresses those around him in equal measure. He’s a difficult mentor for a boy every bit as volatile as he is. With mounting envy and malice, men who would themselves be kings watch Isak as he is shaped and molded to fulfil the prophecies that circle him like scavenger birds. The Gods are once again beginning to meddle in the affairs of men.
On many levels this epic Fantasy offering is as cosily familiar as a bedtime cup of cocoa, then Lloyd takes those familiar ideas and gives them a thoroughly good stir. Isak is the typical powerful-yet-low-born young protagonist who has been selected by the powerful battle god Nartis as Lord Bahl’s successor. Unruly and hot tempered with a dragon-sized chip on his shoulder, Isak isn’t anyone’s favourite choice for any kind of responsibility – even his own father doesn’t like him all that much… But once presented at the palace, Lord Bahl has no choice but to accept him, as he displays all the unmistakeable signs of the god-touched.
I really like how this then plays out. There is no cosiness in this destiny – indeed, Bahl is preoccupied in trying to keep the youngster alive as he immediately becomes the target for some very unwelcome attention. Ignorant and untutored, Isak has to rapidly acquire knowledge and manners to allow him to survive at court, while his fighting skills have to be quickly honed to equip him to be able to lead an army of crack troops. This is all gnarly, difficult stuff – and while those around him mostly try to help him as best they can, Isak is essentially on a lonely path of trying to discover exactly what he can do. And once he is bequeathed some seriously powerful magical artefacts, the stakes are raised once more.
This is an interesting dynamic and Lloyd manages to depict a surly young man who rapidly has to adapt into someone more fitting for the role he has been shoe-horned into. The world is well depicted and Lloyd successfully manages to ramp up the tension, so that when the inevitable battle comes, I was more than happy to read far longer than I’d planned to discover how it all worked out. The battle and action scenes are well written, with plenty of tension and full-on excitement – and there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns that kept me engrossed throughout.
Any niggles? This is a reasonably hefty tome, coming in at just under 500 pages in a smallish font – and I read about the white-eyes’ particularly short temper/immense strength/savagery with monotonous regularity throughout the book. That said, overall the writing style is unfussy and effective.
Of course, the trick with a really powerful protagonist is to still provide him with plenty of viable, believable threats that can viably overwhelm him – and Lloyd effectively surrounds Isak with a profound sense of threat right from the start. As he steadily gets more capable, the stakes continue to be raised. The climax to this instalment provides a surprising development that will prove to be a gamechanger in the next book, The Twilight Herald, which I will definitely be tracking down. This promising start to The Twilight Reign series marks Lloyd as One To Watch.