Ever since I came across her blog, I’ve been wanting to read Dionne Lister’s epic fantasy novel, Shadows of the Realm for quite a few reasons. I love fantasy, I love Young Adult, and I love YA Fantasy books that are part of a series, and with this being Book 1 in the Circle of Talia series, well I couldn’t go far wrong really, could I? Oh, and did I forget to mention that it’s got dragons in it too? As you can tell by the gorgeous front cover, it looks incredibly sinister indeed!
The books follows various characters actually as they all work together to try and prevent invasion from the Third Realm, by monstrous beings known as the Gormons. But despite the numerous characters, it is the fate of both Blayke and Bronwyn that really gets the juices flowing. They are young realmists (will explain later) as they are unknowingly drawn closer together as they head towards Vellonia, the mystical city of the Dragons in order to learn their craft, which will prepare themselves for the oncoming invasion. But it’s not an easy journey, as they are hunted and sabotaged along the way.
It is this journey that really kicks things off for both Blayke and Bronwyn; and death is never far away! Dionne Lister has a fantastic imagination as she builds a world full of magic and intrigue; a world we desperately crave to know more about. From vast mountain ranges, to bustling mediaeval-like cities, to impressive castles, to supernatural lakes, Talia is a world so beautifully created, it’s a shame we can’t actually visit it! But this depth just adds to the dilemma our heroes are facing. From the off we learn that if these vicious Gormons invade, then Talia is surely doomed?
It’s a huge quest then these young teenagers face. And thankfully both Blayke and Bronwyn are likeable characters; characters that engage with us, treat us with quirky responses, shock us with their actions and ultimately move us when they are faced with turmoil. Even though Blayke and Bronwyn never really meet, you can’t help but wonder what these two young realmists will face as their quest continues. And Bronwyn in particular comes across as a down-to-earth young lass, who is so relatable to the teenage market. You don’t often see female teenage leads that can wield a sword or dagger!
Which leads me on to the more original aspect of Dionne Lister’s mesmerising story. Realmists. People who can channel the magic from other realms and use it at the disposal. Yes, and it doesn’t stop there. The realmists can enter the second realm to discuss matters in secret, but they appear as symbols; their physical, tangible entities not able to transcend the realms. I probably haven’t done this aspect justice by explaining it here, but let me say that Dionne Lister requires a medal acknowledging the fact that she has been able to create a concept, build it, and sustain it in such an easy-to-understand way that is entertaining and thought-provoking.
Realmists also have the chance to ‘bond’ with a creatura – an animal who also chooses them to spend their life with and become their eternal companion. Being able to read each other’s mind also plays a huge part in the story. It’s a great idea, and once again adds to depth and ingenious of this world.
Magic and dragons however, aren’t the only gems in this well-sculptured novel. I particularly loved the character of Avruellen, Bronwyn’s Aunt and teacher in the Realmist arts. She’s a feisty woman, who has a plethora of experience. She comes across as quite stoic and candid in the beginning, but really she has had to live a long life of secrecy and betrayal. I do hope we learn more about this fabulous character in the later books. She’s often humorous and her words can sometimes has alternate meaning. In one part of the book, a part which includes Avruellen, I almost did a double take! I never saw the incident coming, and it gave me goosebumps reading it.
But besides this quest our characters have to go on, there is a side-story of sorts that follows the Kingdom of Edmund and his rather unsavoury brother, Leon. It isn’t quite understood yet as to how their story fits in with the Gormon invasion, but it is a juicy story of power, jealousy, betrayal and concealment. I wasn’t too sure about this side-story to begin with, but by the end of the book, one of the chapters became one of my favourites. In fact, the entire last third of the book is deliciously addictive and you’ll find yourself turning the pages enriched by the climax that is ultimately being built.
There are some parts however that let the novel down a bit though. The dragons are wonderfully described, and it makes a nice change for the dragons to be an ally, rather than an enemy, but at times they are described as sitting on benches and at dining tables, eating with our human friends. I found it a little hard to imagine these, let’s say, more civilised actions. It became a bit clunky in my head, but that’s just my take on it. I also found, especially in the beginning, that the pace was a tad bit too slow. When it’s action-orientated its brill. But when there’s not a lot going on apart from travelling, camping and eating, it can be a little bit routine. But saying that, it is in these moments where we really get to know the characters by their dialogue and opinions.
Shadows of the Realm is a gem of a book, full of blood-thirsty action, witty dialogue, original concepts and a storyline that creates a gripping sense of urgency that we have no choice but to abandon the trivialities of everyday life, because what’s more important than saving a world on the brink of a violent and destructive invasion? The washing-up – I don’t think so! It combines magic and nature in wonderful balance, and some thought-provoking questions too. Think His Dark Materials meets The Chronicles of Narnia; in my opinion, comparisons don’t come much better than that. If a first instalment whets your appetite so much so you can’t wait to read the second, well it’s a no-brainer really, isn’t it? This is the perfect example of a long lost genre of fantasy, and it is told so brilliantly that the woes of Blayke and Bronwyn becomes yours too. Yes, it does suffer from some slow patches in terms of pace, but I can’t think of any reason why this book doesn’t deserve the full five twinkling stars! Well done, Ms Lister, well done indeed!
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