Sunday, March 12, 2023

The Warden by Daniel M. Ford

Synopsis (via Goodreads): For fans who have always wanted their Twin Peaks to have some wizards, The Warden is a non-stop action adventure story from author Daniel M. Ford.

There was a plan.

She had the money, the connections, even the brains. It was simple: become one of the only female necromancers, earn as many degrees as possible, get a post in one of the grand cities, then prove she’s capable of greatness. The funny thing about plans is that they are seldom under your control.

Now Aelis de Lenti, a daughter of a noble house and recent graduate of the esteemed Magisters’ Lyceum, finds herself in the far-removed village of Lone Pine. Mending fences, matching wits with goats, and serving people who want nothing to do with her. But, not all is well in Lone Pine, and as the villagers Aelis is reluctantly getting to know start to behave strangely, Aelis begins to suspect that there is far greater need for a Warden of her talents than she previously thought.

Old magics are restless, and an insignificant village on the furthest border of the kingdom might hold secrets far beyond what anyone expected. Aelis might be the only person standing between one of the greatest evils ever known and the rest of the world.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own. Any quotes I use are from an unpublished copy and may not reflect the finished product.

The Warden had the potential to be a really great book; however, the main character was unlikeable, the setting was poorly explained, and the delivery was more tell than show (which is always a bummer). Aelis talks to herself a lot, and the author uses this to explain various aspects of the book. I want to see what's happening and feel it unfold. I don't want a play-by-play from the main character. Additionally, what she's saying - the terms and phrases she uses - are only vaguely explained. 

Why are there so many moons? How do they work? Are we ever going to find out why Aelis has an affinity for one of them? I also wasn't a big fan of how the flashbacks were presented. They felt too planned and intentional. I understand they were supposed to be a way to inform readers of past events, but they seemed to always justify or explain whatever Aelis was currently doing. Why did she and her professor have so much animosity between them? The author barely touches on seemingly crucial details. 

I also wanted more from the secondary characters - Tun specifically. I honestly thought he was going to follow her at the end (incognito of course), but even that was a disappointment. The author tried to build up this friendship but then missed an opportunity for it to flourish. The same can be said of Maurenia. Their relationship had so much potential, but the execution left a lot to be desired. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again . . . unlikeable main characters make it hard to enjoy a book. Aelis was rude, condescending, wanted to wave her title and elitism around, and had very little regard for the people she was supposed to be protecting. Rus and Martin went out of their way to make sure she had what she needed (whether that was food, basic necessities, or even just information), yet she rarely thanked them or even smiled in their direction. I hated how "stoic" the author tried to make her, because she ended up being someone I didn't want to read about. 

It was also very frustrating when things simply "worked out" for Aelis. None of her plans failed. She didn't have any setbacks. She didn't listen when people offered her advice. 

Small spoilers: I wish this book had been about a female necromancer with a half-orc best friend and half-elf love interest. I wish they had traveled and adventured together, their bonds growing stronger the longer they were together. I wish Aelis had struggled and failed. I wish she had learned from failing and grown as a character. I wish we had seen her use more of her necromancy and had less of her explaining what everything was. I wish Pips had been included in their adventures and played a larger role. I wish the setting and the world had been described more thoroughly and less verbally. 

Like I said, this book had the potential be something amazing. Unfortunately, it fell flat and left me feeling a little disappointed and a lot annoyed. (★★★☆☆)