The Black River Chronicles: Level One
by David Tallerman and Michael Wills
Digital Fiction Publishing Corp.

"Homily, paradigm, lucent,..."

Sixteen-year-old ranger Durren Flintrand is one of four first-level students from the Black River Academy for Swordcraft and Spellcraft. The foursome is intentionally formed for the purpose of undertaking a series of expeditions. Durren and his random troupe, that consists of a wizard, fighter, and rogue, have no choice but to work together in the hope of advancing to the second level. The tricky part is that the motley crew has to achieve that level in six months or receive automatic expulsions. What makes this attainment so difficult has everything to do with the team member's gifts, which ironically don't seem to fit his/her warrior personas. While that can possibly create problems, especially as they attempt ways to complete their missions, complications arise when they learn that one of them is harboring a well-kept secret.

David Tallerman joins forces with Michael Wills to create a coming-of-age middle-reader fantasy series. The first book in The Black River Chronicles, Tallerman-Wills' plot zeroes in on four teenage underdogs who are trying to figure out their gifts and abilities. Placing Durren front and center, the duo-author team slowly unveils their principal character's persona and background as the story progresses. Besides Durren, Tallerman and Wills include quite an appealing cast, very much on the same wavelength as Harry Potter and his tight group of friends. A wizard, fighter, and rogue respectively, Areinelimus Ironheart Thundertree (known as Arein, a girl dwarf), Hule Tremick, and Tia Locke (a dun-elf) are in the same position as Durren—all having a lot of growing up to do, as well as having to report to the Head Tutor Borgnin who is reminiscent of Dumbledore.

Although the narrative spends a great deal of time on Durren, a part of his development comes from working with the other three group members. Two unique tools Tallerman-Wills uses to develop Durren's role are through engaging dialogue and a flurry of interactive scenes. Of particular interest are scenes that not only focus on Arein's character, but also her friendship with Durren as well as her ability to help him with his familial situations. That said, Tallerman-Wills are able to connect with their young audience by utilizing human-interest themes in their narrative. Top on the theme list is the author-duo's underdog cast that has the potential for performing great things. But like all teens, they can only reach those potentials by getting out of their comfort zones and choosing to embrace challenges.

The bulk of Tallerman-Wills' action-packed scenes are set during a continual series of unexpected situations, primarily centered on the troupe's unusual expeditions. Great examples include recovering stolen goods from a potentially aggressive village folk called rat-kind; searching for an egg-shaped stone; and capturing a unicorn. A balanced combination of all the aforementioned elements replete with plot twists and a flurry of cliffhanger chapters, book one of The Black River Chronicles will not only definitely whet the literary appetite of middle-reader enthusiasts, but also get them excited for the next in the series.

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