Characters die in Fantasy. A lot.
There is a sense of inevitability, when it comes to death in Fantasy. An expectation among fantasy readers that, whether we like it or not, someone is probably going to die before the final chapter.
And it can be effective; death is not only an efficient way of removing characters and furthering the plot, but it is also a universal truth of the world. One which, in the right hands, can be taken to emotional heights when translated into fiction. Fantasy takes what we know and expands it into something new, fantastical, and terrifying.
The Sons of Thestian by M.E.Vaughan is one of these books. Not just when dealing death, but with love, grief, friendship, and the fear of fate itself, this book strikes at these fundamental principles with a brutal clarity. At the end of it, this book struck a chord with me, perhaps deeper than a lot of other books in this genre.
However, the book is not without its flaws.
Prince Jionathan of Harmatia is destined for the throne. Yet, with the King on his death-bed, the balance of power is tipping in favour of the malicious Queen. Besieged by visions of his death, Jionathan flees the city in fear of his life.
Rufus Merle, a prodigy of the Royal Magi, is sent to bring him home.
A Sidhe warrior named Fae befriends the frightened Prince.
And together, the trio travel through the dangerous faerie-wood. Against bandits, evil spirits and cursed priestesses, these unlikely friends walk a path fraught with danger. The weight of the crown hangs in the balance – and, perhaps, the fate of the Kingdom.
There are two things which I commend this book highly for.
First, its ability to utilise multiple points of view (I.E. More than the principal two characters) in a way that is not only easy for the reader to follow, but one which is used to great effect. Each character feels and sees the world differently – from the cynical Rufus Merle, to the jaded eyes of Arlen Zachary, to the brave and reckless loyalty of Fae.
Instead of falling into the trap of having too many points of view and not enough character, The Sons of Thestian presents a vivid and varied cast which, whether villain or hero, you will find yourself sympathising with, to greater or lesser extents.
Every character has their own response to the events of the story – as well as the deeper themes I discussed in the intro to this review – and thus we, the reader, are not just painted a fantastical world, but one of many angles.
Subjects such as death and love do not affect everyone in the same way. And being able to portray this with such clarity, in a world where flying cats exist, is no easy task.
Secondly, the plot. Looking at the blurb, I assumed I would know the general gist of the story – a runaway prince, a wizard sent to find him, he discovers his responsibility to the kingdom, probably some dark secret, blah, blah.
But boy, not only was I wrong, but I was punched so hard in the gut by those plot twists that my heart was living in my throat. By the mid-point, I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen next. The mythical creatures, the faerie forest, the korrigans – ugh, the korrigans!
I can honestly say that a scene at the end of the book brought tears to my eyes. The foreshadowing was that good.
That being said, there are some scenes that just didn’t do it for me. At the time, I took those scenes in my stride, but now with hindsight of the ending, I wonder what the purpose of those scenes were. Some provided foreshadowing, others a bit of characterisation.
But there are a number of scenes, especially when the characters arrive in a certain village that really lost momentum for me. It felt like a lot of time was given to the characters being introspective, rather than taking action – passively waiting on their next move, rather than taking it.
In addition, there are a number of characters – particularly the Magi – that I wish we’d seen more of. Their names were brought up time and again through the book, but as a reader, I didn’t know who they were. I couldn’t put a face to the name, or even a personality. And the last thing I want half way through a tense piece of dialogue is to ask “Who was that again?”
But overlooking these flaws, The Sons of Thestian was a great book to read. I loved the main characters, the enemies, the twists. And the final moments of this book had me staring out into the void, contemplating everything I knew about life, in the way only a good book can.
If you are a fan of high fantasy and want a new series to sink your teeth into, then I recommend giving this book a shot.
As for me? Well, I’ll be digging into the sequel the first chance I get…
Have you read The Sons of Thestian? Or any other high fantasy novels that made your heart stop? Let me know in the comments below, or tweet me @ERHollands. And hey, why not check out my article about fan-fiction, featuring the lovely M.E.Vaughan, while you’re here!