Ashley Capes is a very versatile author: from the high fantasy of his “Masks” series, to the magic-tinged reality of “The Fairy Wren”; from the eerie ghost story of “A Whisper of Leaves” to the Outer Limits flavor of “Crossings”, I always look forward to his works, knowing I will find something different with each new foray into his different declinations of speculative fiction. So, when he asked me if I would read the ARC of this latest endeavor, a tale from a work-in progress collection, I jumped at the chance to sample his return to a fantasy realm.
The main character is a man who goes by the name of Never (an intriguing choice at that…) cursed by peculiar blood magic, something he can control only to a certain point and that makes him an outcast and a hunted man – not only for this but also because he stole some precious maps to the Amber Isle, a far-away, weird place where he hopes to find the answers to the mystery of his origins and the source of his deadly powers.
As the story progresses, we understand that the world Never inhabits grew on the remnants of a once-powerful and more advanced civilization, the kind of theme I find deeply fascinating: the main attraction here comes from the tiny glimpses we are afforded of that long-gone civilization, and the way Never’s questions remain mostly unanswered, while many others are added to the mix, creating a fascinating background that simply begs to be explored.
In his perilous voyage toward the mythical Isle, Never teams up with some treasure hunters searching for the lost riches of the past, and together they face the dangers of the journey: hungry monsters attacking from the sea depths, unsteady rope bridges linking the chain of smaller islands that runs from the continent toward the fabled Amber Isle, weird amphibian humanoids that my mind kept picturing as very similar to the Monster of the Black Lagoon. And again, the traps left by the Isle’s original inhabitants in the temple that’s the hunters’ goal – or maybe not so much traps but long-lost technology that the group simply does not know how to deal with… The increasing pace at which these events unfold makes for a quick, compelling reading, and one I recommend as a good sample of this author’s work for all those who have not yet read his books.
It goes without saying that following Never’s peregrinations will be an involving journey: certainly more comfortable for us readers than for the protagonist, but still filled with harrowing and suspenseful moments.
And since The Amber Isle will be published in March, you will have the opportunity to read it by winning one of the five e-copies that Ashley Capes offers for a giveaway hosted on his site. To participate go there and follow the link for the contest. Remember this is only the first installment in the series, so more will come in the near future. Good luck and… good reading!