Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
WOW! We didn't expect anything less than this from our former grand-prize winner in fiction, David V. Mammina! So, as usual with a David Mammina story, the characters are what elevate it to the next level.
When it comes to crafting dynamic fantasy characters we love to love (and love to hate), few authors do it better than Mammina.
There's just something about how he can take a protagonist like Ores and make him such an enigmatic, intriguing, heroic marvel. There's just something about how he can take an antagonist like King Garside (AKA “King @&$hole”) and make him so despicably, reprehensibly unlikable that all we want to read about is his people ganging up on him and taking turns kicking him about 100,000 times each, and yet despite all of that we are still actually able to feel bad for him at a few points! That takes so much skill to pull off! Not just any author can do that.
And to top it off, of course he again needs to give us one of the hottest characters imaginable in Princess Idunessa—a warrior princess who probably smells like a combination of roses, oranges, cinnamon, pepper essence, and Pantene. And of course, like Princess Shina in “The Angels of Resistance” she's a redhead. Despite being the daughter of King @&$hole, she has a good head on her shoulders and knows how corrupt and immoral her father is. And, as we all know, good girls are the best girls, especially good girls who can kick your butt, or stab your enemy in the skull if needed.
And also Lord Tamarac is kinda cool in a Michael Ironside/Danny Trejo/Benicio Del Toro sort of way.
Anyway, perhaps we should run down a little more about the actual plot, most of which is uniquely told from the perspective of a bard/stage magician named Hanna, who is probably also very hot and probably has a sexy French or Irish accent.
Hanna tells us that the kingdom of Dorandum exists under the tyrannical rule of King Garside, the most @$#holic, negligent, ruthless politician imaginable. There is nothing really to like about this guy other than his hot, capable daughter, Idunessa, who despite being hot and capable can't quite muster up the guts to tell her dad to go screw himself. To make matters worse, not only is King Garside good at making the lives of his people miserable by being a needless pr$#k all the time, but he is also a bit of an imperialist, spreading his @$#holerly throughout the land through phony diplomacy and conquest.
So how do you stop an evil, tyrannical dictator from being an evil, tyrannical dictator? YOU CALL BATMAN, OF COURSE! Ores, the caped-crusader who lurks the darkness with some sort of magical cloaking ability, becomes known throughout Dorandum and beyond as the “Spirit Warrior.” Word spreads about his heroic adventures including, most notably, a mock assassination of the king himself which demonstrates to the kingdom that even their king isn't invincible. During these adventures, Ores encounters Idunessa and becomes somewhat infatuated with her.
Think this is just going to be a story about a plucky hero taking on an evil king's evil army? THINK AGAIN! This is a David V. Mammina book, doggonit. From what we remember from reading this book like two weeks ago, a volcano erupts. And this isn't just any volcano. First of all, it's named Mt. Miuriell, implying it may have been named in honor of the hero from “Angels of Resistance” (Michael Miuriell), further implying this story exists in the same universe at a later time. Second of all, we get ourselves another BIG BAD. And this BIG BAD is like the first BIG BAD except instead of sitting on his $#@ being an $%#hole telling others how to be an $@#hole, this BIG BAD is a doer and a go-getter armed with actual magic and a freakin' lava dragon! He also probably does a hundred push ups and pull ups every morning before downing three-dozen raw dragon eggs.
This big bad demonic entity is known as Infernos, because of course he is. It turns out that Infernos and King Garside have a past and a personal connection, so Infernos makes things even more personal by kidnapping Princess Idunessa. He then tells Garside that the only way Princess Idunessa can be set free instead of being skinned alive and turned into some kind of taxidermy display is if King Garside dies—either by committing suicide or being killed. Garside, being selfish and a coward, refuses to commit suicide, and he calls his most loyal lord, Tamarac, to be responsible for his personal protection. He also calls for an audience with Ores, until now considered his mortal enemy.
This puts Batma—sorry, Spirit Warrior in a compromising predicament. On one hand, he and the readers already hate King Garside with a passion. On the other hand, Spirit Warrior loves Idunessa and wants to rescue her from Infernos. Also, Spirit Warrior understands that chaos, disorder, and rebellions only lead to people like Robespierre or Stalin eventually taking over because he read Animal Farm at Mordor University or something (the first non-Orc to graduate from there). Between a rock and a hard place, Spirit Warrior decides to go to confront Infernos in order to save Idunessa.
So, what if anything holds this book back? Perhaps it's that the basic plot itself is a tale as old as time, and it's not even unique among the books we've read in the past few months. For example, last season we read "Era of Undying" by Emilie Knight which began almost the same way: a hero with a special power infiltrates the king's palace before shenanigans ensue. They are then recruited by the very king who antagonized them to solve a bigger problem. Even the characters Captain Tellus (from "Era of Undying") and Lord Tamarac are nearly identical in their devout loyalty to the sovereign. However, that's where the comparisons end.
A good story is a good story. A well-told good story is even better!
This book is full of great characters and some great twists and turns. It's also just about the perfect length. It never overstays its welcome.
We highly recommend this fantasy book!