Title: The Fourth Age Shadow Wars: Assassins
Author: David. N Pauly
Genre: Epic Fantasy
The land of Nostraterra is in ruins in the aftermath of a deadly war that cost the lives of Elves, dwarves, and men alike. Rebuilding this once great kingdom serves as the backdrop for a deadly game of power and politics, with a plot to assassinate Alfrahil, the Crown Prince of Eldora, at its center. Magic meets mystery as the prince tries to uncover the mastermind behind the threat to his life, and it seems the truth might literally hit too close to home for comfort.
David Pauly gave a solid effort into pulling off what is truly an ambitious literary project. He introduced us to a world where otherworldly beings freely mixed with man and creature alike. There is a richness in the way he sets a scene, and in the way he uses all five senses to ground readers into what is happening on the page, that transports readers and makes the experience wonderfully immersive. He gradually added layers of complexities into the plot and other fantasy elements that were clearly done with the enjoyment of the readers in mind.
One cannot overstate the importance of world-building in launching a successful epic fantasy series. The reason why something like Game of Thrones resonates so much with so many readers is because, to an extent, Westeros feels as real to them as any country in Western Europe. There’s a political system, a social order, financial infrastructures, even a detailed history of past kings and queens. This is certainly what the author tried to emulate and achieve here, and he largely succeeds in that endeavor.
However, the key thing that fantasy novel writers should learn from masters like George RR Martin is the recognition that the strength of a good fantasy novel fundamentally lies in the quality of the storytelling. The intricacies of the world you build for your readers means little if they are unable to connect with the story and/or the main characters. In this case, there was a sense that in the effort to flesh out the world of Nostraterra, the main threads of the story got tangled up in knots that then needed effort to unpick. Plot and character development could have been given more focus.
For example, the relationship between King Creon and his sons Alfrahil and Daerahil provides this book’s emotional center, and yet the author never fully capitalized on the mounting tension surrounding those characters. It’s a given that this book would have a lot of strong fantasy elements. However, it also had a lot of human elements that just make books meatier and relatable. Family ties that are tested in the face of power and ambition, the constant threat of betrayal looms over the bonds of brotherhood, and the age-old adage about blood being thicker than water is constantly called into question—these are the things that readers really connect with and would hope to see developed further in subsequent installments.
The Fourth Age Shadow Wars: Assassins is a solid first outing from a promising fantasy writer. As the first book in the series, it ultimately got the job of any good opening act done, in that it hooked readers into the world of Nostraterra and made them want to come back for more. Like a master chess player, the author has placed all his pieces in position for what promises to be an epic storytelling journey and a source of delight for fans of the fantasy genre.
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