Keepers of Arden:
The Brothers Volume 1
Wow. L.K. Evans's Keepers of Arden is an amazing debut novel that stole me away into its world from the very beginning and refused to let me leave. The world of Arden is one well worth visiting, and Evans has populated it with interesting characters, many whom break free of the traditional swords and sorcery fantasy tropes.
The majority of the story revolves around Wilhelm and his brother, Salvarias, a mage whose conception early in the story bears the touch of an evil, malicious force. Salvarias, already reviled by many for being a mage, bears the horrible burden of feeling this evil force within him, and Wilhelm's pure nature and unconditional love for him could possibly be the only thing that can save him from being consumed by it. On top of that, an ancient evil is once again vying to gain power over Arden and has its eyes set on Salvarias to help achieve its goals.
Much of Keepers follows Wilhelm and Salvarias through their youth, showcasing their growth into adulthood. In my opinion, this is expertly done, and serves to make these characters so much more endearing. Following Salvarias's journey to adulthood is a heart-wrenching experience, and watching the misery of his youth compared to Wilhelm's more pleasant upbringing makes it even more so. Constantly you want Wilhelm to discover the truth about what Salvarias is forced to go through and to make everything better. The fact that I found myself caring so deeply about Salvarias and his brother, while hating those responsible for Salvarias's troubled youth is testament to L.K. Evan's amazing ability to craft interesting and believable characters.
There are villains, monsters, and heroes in spades throughout Keepers, and Evan's strong imagination shines through each of them. The story has plenty of twists and turns, answering many questions that arise, while leaving many for future volumes. The reader should be aware that this is very much an adult fantasy, and there is some very dark moments throughout.
There were only a couple of issues I had with Keepers of Arden. One was the pacing for the latter portion. I do understand that the beginning spans nearly two decades, but once the brothers are adults, I felt the transition into something of a "this happened, then this happened, and then this happened" was a bit abrupt. Also, I was a little let down by the climax of the book. Being the first book of a series, I didn't expect much closure, but I just didn't feel the protagonists had much at stake. Yes, there was a city faced with a potential massacre, but there wasn't really a sense of the true consequences for the characters or the story if the good guys, so to speak, lost to the bad guys.
Those are really small gripes, however, in that I was captivated throughout. There are rarely any slow sections, and even those few were kept interesting with Evan's brilliant characters. Truthfully, this is one of the best fantasy books I've had the pleasure of reading this year, and I can't wait to see what Evans has in store for Wilhelm, Salvarias, and the world of Arden in the next volume.
Easily 5/5 stars. If you're a fan of fantasy, please check this one out.