4/5 Stars – An alternate history, beautifully dark fantasy
I downloaded this book a while ago on a promotional deal. It is not something that would normally grab my eye but the cover was superb and whilst the ‘World’s First Wizard’ sounded a bit cliched as a series title and felt like a YA fantasy title (in my mind), reading the blurb and the subsequent ‘Look Inside’ that Amazon provides, convinced me this was a book worthy of my time because that is what reading a book is, an investment in time. I am very pleased to say it was worth every second of my investment.
First of all, this book is wonderfully and evocatively written. The execution of storytelling was top draw and the story itself was unlike anything I had read before. I have read steampunk and dark fantasy and a couple of alternate history tales before with varying results – this one sits at the top of the pile for me. I mention steampunk because it had a little flavour of that with the Zeppelin’s but other than that it is not a steampunk novel by any stretch. It is however very much dark fantasy set in an alternate history world.
The story is set in the 1930s where the war to end all wars is still raging and sucking more of the world into the conflict so that it no longer encompasses just Europe. It is told from the German side of the lines which is a refreshing twist in itself since history has a way of glorifying the victors and painting the losers as being somehow morally bankrupt or bad. That may well be the case but things are never all black or all white, more a dire-grey when it comes to war and the men and women on the front lines that fight them.
The world’s first wizard is called Milo, only he doesn’t know it yet and this story tells the tale of his awakening if you like. I should warn that it is dark fantasy and it is not YA. There is no ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ wand waving, this is an altogether more earthy and darker magic. See, Milo is gifted but he has to learn from someone or something and that something is nothing human nor very palatable to us. He must learn alchemical necromancy. There is a lot of alchemy but alchemy that does not follow the rules of the natural world, more the supernatural. There is a lot of detail written covering this in the story so that the reader gets a real sense of how the magic is worked and how it is derived.
It is really interesting seeing the fantastical, underworld magics interacting with the real world and it occurred to me that as dreadful as this dark underworld was, humanity itself is pretty bloody grim and more than a match. There is irony and a lot of subtle undertones throughout the story that I picked up on and this made my reading all the more enjoyable.
I won’t say much more because I do not wish to give any spoilers away, but this is a story you should read if you like dark fantasy. The prose is artfully written, the story wonderfully plotted and our anti-hero very likeable (to me at least) and his side-kick. Even the nasties have a certain appeal to them….after a while.
This first instalment is a self-contained story but with a continuing narrative, meaning there are more adventures to be had with Milo. Books two and three are both out and available and this series is very much on my radar now.