Score: 94.5/100 (9.45 out of 10)
Rogues of the Crosslands: Azoria's Blade is a marvelous and emotional fantasy-adventure novel by John Daze! It surprised and wowed us in so many ways! The world-building is next-level, the story is interesting and easy to follow, and—best of all—the characters are lovable and compelling!
Azoria's Blade is the first installment in this fantasy series, and, boy, is it a great way to kick off a series!
We can't talk about this book without first discussing the extraordinary characters and the masterful way the author crafted them. Leading this all-star cast of characters is Azoria Dash, a young elf (implied to be younger than 13) who was tragically orphaned following an orc attack on her family in the little old village of Averstone. Due to this, Azoria holds a blood feud with the orcs, even becoming prejudice against their entire race. This is perhaps one of the most interesting things about this book. While Azoria is justified in her anger against the orcs who killed her loved ones, the narrator and the other characters constantly remind her that not all orcs are evil and that not all orcs are responsible for what happened.
This is most pronounced when Azoria visits her first big city, finding that the orc teams blend in with the other races: humans, elves, etc. She also holds resentment against the humans, whom her father taught her were responsible for a great catastrophe that led to widespread suffering among the elves. Once again, Azoria must come to terms with the fact that not all humans are evil, especially since her mentor and protector, Jandar, turns out to be a human. Furthermore, her best friend, Razzle, turns out to be a former human who was transformed into a cat!
So, this book tackles bigotry and prejudice in a very tactful way that we greatly appreciated.
One of the best quotes in the book states that “Not all humans are evil, and not elves are good.”
Azoria is armed with the titular blade, which she calls “Clair.” We later learn that the blade's full name is “Klarion” or the “Klarion Blade”--a sacred, mystical blade that was passed down in her family, the Dash dynasty, for the sake of demon slaying. Azoria was born to be a protector and a demon slayer. When we're first introduced to her, she's a struggling warrior who can hardly fight her own battles against Orcs and a hag spirit.
This is also something we appreciated. Azoria is not some unstoppable uber-feminist female beating up on men and monsters like they're no challenge at all. She's not a Mary Sue. Instead, she's very vulnerable. That's something you want in a protagonist.
Something else we noticed and appreciated is that even when she says and does things that are rude, mean, or unlikable, she's self-conscious about it. It bothers her. This is because she has a conscience and, thus, has a drive to be a good person and to do the right thing.
Jandar is an early nominee for “Best Supporting Character.” He is the grizzled old mentor and veteran with a dark past, similar to Obi-Wan Kenobi or Gandalf. Jandar is a father-figure to Azoria, although his relationship with her is often a tug-o-war as Azoria is naturally distrustful and rogue-like (hence the title). Azoria is not used to trusting people. In fact, she has major trust issues. So, working with other people and depending on them requires a steep learning curve.
Another excellent and fun character is Razzle the cat. A large part of his appeal is that he is a cat, and the author plays into that so well. Because he's a cat, he also has many of the traits and limitations that a cat has. He has a lifespan of only 15 years, making turning him back seem urgent. He also possesses and uses magical items at some points in the book, resulting in some comedic moments when the spells don't work as planned. What's interesting is that even though Azoria and Jandar are clearly the main protagonists overall, there are times when Razzle steals the show and becomes the center of attention such as when he feuds with a falcon who is trying to eat him or when he desperately seeks help in transforming back.
The other thing that's great about this book is the world-building. This would make Tolkien and Joanne Reid proud. The way the author weaves humans, elves, Orcs, and other creatures together is great. You can tell that there's some sort of story behind all of them. They aren't just “ugly and evil.” You can tell that all of them have their own stories to tell and a reason to like or despise the others.
What a terrific adventure! Check it out on Amazon!