Kalanon's Rising by Darian Smith

A wonderfully engaging fantasy whodunit with high stakes and fun magic
Kalanon's Rising book cover

Kalanon’s Rising by Darian Smith is a fantasy novel with one of the more unique premises I’ve read in recent years. Smith crafts what is essentially a murder mystery procedural with very high stakes and puts it in a fantasy setting which makes magic an integral element of the plot. I loved it!

Smith does a wonderful job of setting the tone early. We’re introduced to Sir Brannon Kesh as a former war hero but now reluctant warrior. His loyalty to the kingdom of Kalanon is unquestioned and while he serves as King’s Champion he is torn between that role and his role as a doctor. While Brannon is certainly the main character in this story, nearly all the other members of his team are also interesting with backstories and motivations that make you root for them. It’s the characters that work so well to make the concept really shine. We have a warrior turned physician who is tasked to solve a torture/murder and the stakes are quite possibly the start of another war. The whodunit aspects are well implemented and, as I said, the strength of the various characters help to elevate this into something beyond a simple, cozy murder mystery. There are also gruesome descriptions of murder scenes which one wouldn’t normally find in a cozy mystery, it’s more Bones than Murder, She Wrote. Not only is the concept interesting and the characters engaging, but the plot plays out well, keeping you guessing and there are interesting bits of magic worked throughout the story. I love when the magic of a fantasy world is important to the plot, and that’s certainly the case here in Kalanon’s Rising. Smith doesn’t just stop with all of this, though. He begins painting a realistic world - one in which prejudices between former enemies plays a role that feels true-to-life. All of these elements work together in just the right proportions to give us a fun, interesting, and authentic feel to a story that is really one-of-a-kind because of its concept.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the entire novel, there were a couple things that didn’t quite work for me. In the early chapters there was a tendency to tell rather than show, especially when it came to world building or some of the backstory for Brannon and Kalanon. This might have been the most expedient way to get the reader up to speed on necessary backstory, and sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do it, but I prefer when it feels more natural. In the second half of the book Smith finessed things a little by having characters see the perpetrator, but not think of the perpetrator’s name. A character might think, “So, it was HIM!” But they don’t actually think of the name. This frustrated me a bit. I felt it didn’t add much at that point, other than suspense that was more frustration than actual suspense.

Kalanon’s Rising is a wonderfully engaging fantasy whodunit with high stakes and fun magic. One of the more unique books I’ve read recently, I’m looking forward to the sequel - though this one stands well enough on its own.

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