Hunt for Valamon
by DK Mok
A prince of the Talgaran Empire is taken from the heart of the castle, in the citadel of the capital, by forbidden sorcery the hunt is on. Drafted into service, reclusive cleric Seris is joined by cursed champion Elhan on a journey to the outskirts of the empire passing through rich port cities, desert prisons, forest kingdoms, and ultimately to a villain that isn’t who she seems to be. All the while, the question of whether or not Valamon can be saved, should be saved or is even worth saving is on the table. Divided loyalty to the champion and cleric leads some in the empire to fight to help them while others seek to stop (or kill) them. All the while, a vast army unseen is advancing on the capital and the end of the empire draws near. Even the loyalty of gods cannot be depended upon.
During the adventure (or “hunt”) Seris and Elhan both develop from cliché to fully fleshed out characters. Seris finds himself and his purpose in the hunt, while Elhan realizes there is more to life than what was afforded due to her curse. (Her curse causes death and destruction for those around her, while keeping her safe through unlikely and amazingly lucky ways.) Both are interesting characters that this reader fully enjoyed. Other smaller characters are less developed but more nuanced than you find in normal, cynical fantasy novels. [SPOILERS] What I really liked about this book was the optimism and goodness of the characters. Valamon and Seris fully believe in the rightness of good and the value of every human. Elhan is jaded by her experience of being cursed, but comes to find that there is more to life, and life itself matters. [REALLY SPOILING SPOILER] Even the main “bad guy” Lord Haska comes around as she learns to release the hatred she feels at the loss of her parents at the hands of King Delmar. Unfortunately, King Delmar, Crown Prince Falon, the Captain of the guard Lord Qara, and the “evil” General Barratt and Sorceress Amoriel aren’t as well developed. The King and Queen show up for mere moments and then are gone. Falon does gain insight that he is not what he thinks he has to be, which is good, but his change is abrupt. By setting aside some of these characters and their stories (King, Queen, General and Sorcerer) we are able to have the ending that was so surprising and enjoyable, though. [END SPOILERS]
It is also a rare book that has so many strong, multidimensional female lead characters. While this isn’t required, it is appreciated. Two of the main “bad guys” are female. The Queen runs the kingdom. The captain of the guard is female. One of the main champions is female. The best part is that they are all excellent characters and none seem out of place or forced. It is sad that this is something that readers may notice, but the facts are that there are not enough great female characters in genres like fantasy or science fiction, or on TV or film. Kudos to Mok for writing these characters well.
If there is one thing that did distract from an otherwise excellent fantasy it was Mok’s constant early use of jokes, obscure language descriptions and anachronistic phrases and descriptions. It is like Mok really, really wants the reader to know clever and fun they are. Most of the descriptions follow this pattern: serious, serious, silly. Like, “Mutterings, exclamations and the occasional axe bounced around the tables…” (p 17) or “They looked out into a sea of longbows, shortbows, crossbows and the occasional confused javelineer” (p 20). People in the kitchen die of “Too Much Pudding” (p 2) and clerics have “remarkable therapeutic potatoes” (p 9) and so on. Other phrases or terms are joltingly out of place “violence floats like smog” (p 19) where there is no industry to create smog. Or references to rhinoceroses in a world that doesn’t have them otherwise, like “sombrero” (p 15) in a non-Latino world. There are also obscure words used every so often, that jar the reader, like hessian (used often, instead of hemp) or sangfroid (p 4, instead of cool composure in the face of danger). The good news is that once the silliness is established, it becomes more and more rare throughout the novel allowing the characters to be themselves (mostly – as there is an odd horse perspective passage that seems very out of place during the thick of the final battle.) Even with these quirks, the reader is able to quickly get back into the story.
What the reader gets in the end is a fantasy that is fully developed, complicated but approachable, fun and adventurous and overflowing with heart. It will be enjoyable for teens and young adults as well as high fantasy readers. As for this reader, I have to admit that this was the most fun I’ve had reading a fantasy in a really long time.
Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.
This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.