After a long stretch of reviewing seminal fantasy works it was quite refreshing to read something fresh and newly released, and it was with a certain enthusiasm that I tackled White Mountain by Sophie Tallis.
White Mountain is the first book in the Darkling Chronicles and follows the adventures of a sorcerer, Marval Agyk, the Green Wizard and his companion, the dragon, Gralen. Mr. Agyk is drawn to a distress call from an old wizarding friend in the hidden city of Issatun. When he arrives things are not quite as they seem and Mr. Agyk is captured by an ancient evil, M’Sorreck, who feeds on magic to fuel his changeling abilities. Mr. Agyk escapes, although diminished to a tiny size, and embarks upon a quest to regain his magic.
The core of any good fantasy book is a journey, whether that be a quest or a journey that a character has to make within himself. Tallis uses the plot device well—each of the main four characters has a journey to make within the novel, and for some there is further to travel in future books. As the companions complete stages in their ‘quest’ so they evolve as individuals and friends, in a believable and entertaining way.
The world of White Mountain is one that co-exists within our own, hidden away by magic and ancient skill. The races are the usual High Fantasy ones—elves are AEllfr, dwarves (the main protagonists) are Dworlls, and dragons are Fyrren. In this hidden world are ancient cities and kingdoms that we visit during the book. Tallis has a skill at description of these locations that conveys their heritage and age in a detailed manner, allowing a believable backdrop to the adventure. There is excellent ‘world-building’, another bastion of quality fantasy books, and I found myself drawn into the concealed cities she has created. There was a definite air of Tolkien and Donaldson to both the characters and locales, notably in the protagonist, M’Sorreck, who conjured memories of Lord Foul in a number of ways.
The tone of the book alters as the adventure progresses. The earlier parts of the book have a lighter, almost fairy tale quality at times, with banter and jokes, especially between Agyk and Gralen. The atmosphere shifts to being quite dark and harrowing half-way through, and by the end is fairly bleak. It will be interesting to see what vibes are set in the future books, as it may be tricky to reset the lighter atmosphere given the events at the end of book one, although they are a welcome break in the narrative.
White Mountain is a well-written and engaging read. Stylistically it is engaging, although there was a habit of capitalisation to convey shouting/yelling that irked me. Although fitting with the High Fantasy style of the book, I was left wanting this hidden world to feel more of a part of our own. Humans are mentioned, but never feature, and in many ways the book could have been set in a totally fresh fantasy world rather than our own. I’m hoping in future books that Tallis brings in more aspects of our own world, perhaps human characters, to make the hidden one a little more magical.
In summary, a good début and I look forward to the next book.
Review by Ross Kitson
7/10 from 1 reviews
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