5/5 Stars – One of the most enjoyable and thrilling dark fantasy stories I have ever read. EDIT – *The Most!
Wow – where to start? I mean I had no expectations. Just a hope really that this book by Indie author Steven William Hannah (SWH) would at least be fun. The premise of the story sounded intriguing but sometimes with a book the best work of fiction is the blurb (oops, did I write that out loud?). Not so here, I mean I was hooked from the first page until the last and boy was it a great read. Have you ever had a book that you so wanted to reach the end to find out what happens but at the same time, don’t want it to end? That is The First Rule. (Actually, that is not the First Rule, you’ll have to read the book to find that out).
The story centres around a newly minted priestess (of the Mind’s Eye – a god of knowledge and secrets) called Venalia who returns to her childhood home to conduct the funeral rites for her adoptive father and village priest, Marius. Venalia had hoped to talk to Marius about her future before his untimely death. To seek guidance on which path she should take. Now it is too late and she is unsure, the only thing she knows is that the village on the edge of the Steppes is not where she wants to be. For she does not belong in Lantry, it holds painful memories and the villagers don’t want her either. She is an outsider no matter if she grew up among them and some want her gone, something she is more than happy to oblige them with. But something has happened in the Darkwood, deep in the forest and beneath the earth, where a portal to the inverted world has been found and something sinister and malign lurks within, hungry for souls and now the way is open it has come out to find them.
That is just the start of a wonderfully written, deftly plotted tale that kept me up late turning the pages. It is full of dark mystery and intrigue and the way it is written was very engaging, almost artistic I felt at times. The story contains so much, certain death, redemption (who doesn’t like a redemption story?), hidden secrets, more than one mystery to uncover and oh did I mention certain death? The story is dark, the evil that is coming insidious, the world inhabited truly terrifying with Scarlings in the Darkwood and worse horrors in the Inverted World. The world-building is truly unique and subtle and full of depth.
Interestingly, for a dark fantasy with strong elements of horror to it, this book is in my view suitable for YA as well as adult readers. It is gruesome but not morbidly so, not gratuitously wanton for the sake of it but compelling and descriptive to convey what SWH must. In fact, there is a lot to like outside of those elements, growth, bonds of friendship, redemption, self-worth, broken characters, people learning not who they think they are but who they can be. It really is a smorgasbord of delight….and horror…..and certain death….but I mentioned that already…twice.
This is book one in the Blind Age series but the story is fully self-contained, no cliffhanger waiting for the next book although I will without a doubt be picking up the next as soon as it is out. Now I have another wonderful new author to follow, what an end to 2022 and start to 2023. Some truly stunning creative talents I have stumbled upon. If this all sounds wonderful then honestly, you should give this book a read. SWH is a talent.