I love the cover of The King’s Champion by Xina Marie Uhl! Swords tend to be popular with fantasy novels, and with good reason. We immediately know that the book contains warriors, probably some epic fighting, possibly magic, and hopefully a great story. Thankfully the inside of this book lives up to its cover.
The characters are the best part of this series. Lance is a fairly simple bloke with simple needs, who wants nothing more than to settle down in his quiet village with the girl of his dreams. However, since the villagers found him as a babe, abandoned and squalling, he isn’t allowed to do that until he heads into the world and makes a name for himself. Reluctantly, Lance takes up a sword and heads off to do that very thing. However, living in a quiet village leaves one unprepared for the challenges of the wilderness (bandits, wild animals, starvation) so Lance quickly ends up in trouble. Luckily, he runs into a fellow traveler, Kieran, and they become fast friends as they travel together toward the capital city of Citadel.
I really enjoyed the interaction between Lance and Kieran, particularly when reminded that they are only boys of seventeen. They frequently jibe at one another, and punch, and wrestle, and squabble. At other times they display such maturity that it’s obvious they are full adults in this world, with adult responsibilities. The juxtaposition is authentic and heartwarmingly believable. When Lance discovers that he and Kieran possess an inexplicable, mystical ability between them, he displays his youth by ignoring the matter and refusing to talk about it, despite Kieran (and the reader) wanting to shake him until he confronts it. Kieran is also a well-developed character with a backstory that makes your heart ache for him. I found myself grateful for the moments in The King’s Champion that he spends with Lance when he can shed some of his grave responsibilities and just be a normal young man.
The history of the world in which they reside unfolds in tantalizing bits and pieces, and each morsel is a puzzle piece that the reader will enjoy putting together. I also loved that the boys are outmatched by their enemy, who seems to be one step ahead of them at every turn. This gives the book a sense of urgency as you urge them along on their quest, gripping the book and cursing at each setback and delay.
The addition of a third character, Paddy, adds an element of humor while also allowing the author to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the main characters, as well as interjecting a different point of view in regards to the world they inhabit. The random side characters are also amazingly written and each one feels like they are the star of their own tale, real people with real lives. I enjoyed this immensely and although the conclusion was quite satisfying, I cannot wait for the next book in The King’s Champion series.
Breaking it down…
Characters: 5/5 Lance can be annoying, but it seems obvious that he will outgrow his annoying qualities and he actually changes quite a bit from the beginning to end of the novel.
Story: 5/5 This book is obviously a piece of a larger whole and I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Magic: 5/5 Very cool magic, both good and evil
Setting: 5/5 I loved the varied settings and descriptions all the parts of this world.
Action: 5/5 There is a ton of action in this story and it’s very well written.
Pacing: 4/5 This story maintains a nice sense of urgency throughout.
Worldbuilding: 4/5 While the world is a fairly standard fantasy place that any D&D campaign would fit easily into, there is enough uniqueness that makes it a great platform to highlight the wonderful characters.
“We’re going in there.” Kieran pointed across the way to a large building with a sweeping pinnacle on the roof. With a start, I recognized the cathedral. It look as quiet, dark, and still as every other place.
I gaped. “But why?”
The moon cast an illuminating glow on Kieran’s face. He gestured at the sky. “It is a night of Power. Morrigu has been creeping about lately. Last night, I followed him.”
“A night of what? You’ve been following him around by yourself?” My voice rose in exasperation.
“Power. A night of Power. Even in Lor, they must tell stories about the One’s very lifeblood…that which gives life and energy to the Land…the Power. The storytellers say it is strongest on a full moon. And yes, I followed Morrigu last night.”
“Why didn’t you wake me?”
“I tried, but the thundering of your snores chased me away.”
“I don’t snore!”