Apprentice by Nicholas Hale
Posted Winter 2019
This is author Nicholas Hale's debut novel. He was running a give away about a week and a half ago for copies of his novel. Being a fellow new fantasy author (my first novel is being released on April 19), and firmly believing that the true path to success starts and ends with lifting others, I signed up for the giveaway and told wrote a post telling him that I would read and review the book on an expedited basis. Nick contacted me, sent me a download code for US Kindle (I'm Canadian and it didn't work), and we got into a chat. I ended up telling him that my first book was coming out soon, and he told me that he would review mine as well. He actually pre-ordered a copy of my book, so when Nick offered to send me the correct code when the US one didn't work, I simply returned the favour and got a copy on Amazon.ca.
Review - 5/5
So, before I get into the meat of this review, I want to note a couple of things. First, my review system is this: regardless of flaws, if a book feels like a 5/5, I will give it a 5/5. Perfection does not exist in nature, but 5/5 reviews certainly do (I gave a 3/5 to Ship of Fools recently, so I don't give them to everything I read). There were a scattered few punctuation and grammatical issues but I did not find that these detracted from the story in any way. The second thing is this: this is a 5/5 for the genre that I place this book within. I liken it to the fantasy fiction version of a summer blockbuster. It is pure action, suspense, dazzling vistas, powerful magic - epic in every sense of the word. Comparing it to something like, say, American Gods, would be comparing apples to oranges, despite them being in the same category ('fantasy').
The book features an impressive host of characters, with the titular character (the apprentice) being a novice mage by the name of Lorian. Lorian is an unnaturally adept weaver of the magical arts, even without training. He impresses the shit out of various and sundry masters of magic, and ends up going on to become the apprentice of one of the most powerful mages in all the land, Gawain, Master of Castle Norvind. Gawain is introduced in a prologue, set some 600 years before the start of the book (mages live a looong time in this world). He has access to some powerful magic that all covet but only he and his mages can access. I do not want to get to much into the plot because that would be spoiling it for you.
In a very small way, Lorian's progress reminded me a bit of the LitRPG genre, though it was not tied to triumph over enemies. It was more so the way the progress stacked upon itself. Lorian is a very powerful mage at the end of the book, but how he gets to be that way will completely surprise you.
Other characters include knights, adept warriors, necromancers (there's always a bleedin' necromancer ;-P), demon summoners, demons, dragons, pirates, thieves- it is a veritable smorgasbord of fantastical elements for all tastes. And the way all the storylines are woven together - just splendid, really.
Character progression, political intrigue - this book has it in spades. Another of the main storylines involved Azrael, a warrior with a conscience, living in an world where slavery and brutality are the way of life. His struggle with this was very human, and I am looking forward to seeing what's next for him!
The book reminded me so much of the old Dragonlance books by Weis and Hickman - books that I cut my teeth on when I was a lad. It also had overtones of Magician by Feist. I have not read a fantasy novel like this in a long time and it was such a treat.
The settings are various and epic. There is one particular setting - a castle within a castle filled with magical elements - that just blew me away. It was so cool, and Nick's gift for description really made me feel like I was transported into it. Which reminds me of another thing...
The references! The book is chock full of references to popular culture, mythology, and other works of art. One of my favourite video games growing up was Baldur's Gate 2. And you will be in stitches when you see (one minor spoiler) the reference to Boo of Minsc and Boo. It is not subtle, and it provides some comic relief in an otherwise rather seriously-toned story. The references are great - most of the names of the characters you will recognize from our world, which helps to ground the story a bit It is very hard to write fantasy with completely made-up names for everything without having it jar the senses a bit - Nick's use of references in this way is done very well and keeps you engaged.
Engaging. That is a word that is oft-used in reviews of fiction. But in this case, it certainly fits. The pacing is so on point. It is a very long book and I crushed it in a very short period of time (albeit I was on vacation). It kept me interested throughout - it did not lag at all.
Do yourself a favour and grab a copy of this book. You will be happy you did. Have a chuckle for me when you see Nick's nod to Boo.