"Mortinan’s heart sank because if there came a time when Mendina was in mortal danger, then his champion would do absolutely anything he could to save her."

To be effective, fantasy and science fiction novels require an inordinate amount of attention to detail and, in particular, world building. But, at the same time, the best authors in the field find a way to propel the story forward without becoming bogged down in minutia. Dowell spends the first fourth of his hefty 476-page tome weaving a rich tapestry of life and back story for a half dozen characters and the world they inhabit, while teasing what’s to come.

Events begin fascinatingly enough with six individuals who are seemingly chosen at random in what is essentially a role-playing game in novel form. A mysterious being known as the Creator informs them that each will be given a realm from which they will choose a champion. Dowell alternates chapters among each of the six, exploring their realms and eventual picks for the games. When all is said and done, elves, dwarves, goblins, monks, and warriors are among the races represented, though their ultimate prize upon winning the games remains shrouded in mystery. In fact, aside from an idol won by Brindel’s champion, the ultimate goal of the games is never fully disclosed. The first in a series, the novel is left open-ended with the promise of more adventures to come.

Unlike Tolkien, where the object of the quest is made known early on, here the goal of the quest, or games, isn’t so clear. The stakes of the novel, therefore, suffer somewhat. Fortunately, Dowell writes with confidence and skill to craft edge-of-your-seat adventures–from battles with insectoid creatures, flying reptiles, and more. Fans of fantasy and pulp adventures, as well as role-playing gamers, will therefore find plenty to like about the novel and its worlds.

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