by Lara Giesbers
Westwood Books Publishing

"Your daughter will be executed tomorrow morning as a lesson to all that we will not tolerate arcane knowledge of any kind!"

In Giesbers' tale, following the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, the Apostles bestowed gifts upon a select few who were imbued with heightened abilities to heal, greater wisdom (particularly in the understanding of arcane knowledge), and unparalleled intuition and awareness. Collectively, this group is known as those of the Craft, who have settled and built lives amongst the citizens throughout Nereheim and North Agea. Giesbers' work accomplishes the rare feat of weaving faith and fantasy into the narrative. Both are essential and irreplaceable parts of the universe she has created. More than anything else, it is the author's unique blend of character development, worldbuilding, and fluid plotlines that males for an exhilarating storytelling experience.

While the cast of characters is many, the author does a commendable job of giving each of them enough of the spotlight, ultimately charting a character map that will have many of the characters on an inevitable collision course. Reminiscent of George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, the narrative is split into numerous mini storylines. The Mauldon family—spearheaded by the patriarch Jason Mauldon, his wife Thena, and children Michael, Phillip, and Nafaria—along with the Stone family, composed of Malcolm Stone and his son Nathaniel, are arguably central players, and their actions have ripple effects on the fate of other characters.

Many coming-of-age stories are intertwined: the knowledge-hungry Michael Mauldon and the artistic Lillia; Nathaniel and his little one, the plant-loving Nafaria; the archery masters Phillip Mauldon and Alana Deveraux. However, when a girl of the Craft, Lya Bernard, poisons Count Deveraux's oldest daughter, his rage encompasses him, transforming him into an inferno of vengeance unwilling, perhaps unable, to see reason. Marred by the memory of the retribution-driven public hanging of Lya and her innocent mother, the lives and relationships of these characters are forever altered, igniting a massive persecution of all girls and women of the Craft.

With the support of King Rohn Catalane—who still has not gotten over the loss of his sister and blames his brother-in-law and former court adviser, Malcolm Stone—Count Deveraux becomes further emboldened, going on quite literally a witch hunt. When his grief turns into rage, it doesn't take long for others like Count Vedan to continue persecuting those of the Craft. Thematically, there is a litany of themes beyond the simple overarching good versus evil in this narrative. For instance, why does one fear that which he does not know? How could an otherwise just authority figure like Count Deveraux get so blinded that he is willing to kill innocent girls and women only to ensure that no one has higher knowledge and abilities?

The Mauldon's home, along with many others in Denholm Glen, is ransacked and burned to the ground, forcing many to flee, shifting the characters' stories to North Agea and a new dawn of learning and growth for each one. Deveraux's delusions that "women are fickle, ruled by their emotions" ignite a ferocious introspection within each character, a fusion of frustration and acceptance and an unrelenting desire to protect loved ones. For some, this clash yields a desire to attain the apex of knowledge. Others will find themselves on the pendulum swinging between light and dark.

Overall, Giesbers' pacing is impeccable as she unveils layer after layer of deep secrets through character backstories. Surrounded by the Craft's belief in Yahweh, the characters' motivations (even those exhibiting the dark side) are all driven by their authentic experiences—an undoubtedly endearing quality rooted in being human. When Giesbers combines characters whose paradigms have been forged in loss and reality with the stunning world and laws of Nereheim and North Agea, a mesmerizing and unforgettable reading experience unfolds.

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