Monsters are a great foil for storytelling. Often big, generally scary, and regularly otherworldly, they are “the other,” something to strike fear into the reader. Other times, these monsters are misunderstood: still often big, generally scary, and regularly otherworldly, they are considered “monsters” by those who don’t understand them. And in other instances, as seen in Nikky Lee’s The Rarkyn’s Familiar, these monsters—presented in this book as big, scary and otherworldly (in this case, literally; he hails from “the Otherworld”)—act to question who the real monster is. Is it the titular rarkyn, or is it the novel’s protagonist, Lyss, who is determined to avenge her father’s death by any means necessary?
The Rarkyn’s Familiar tells the story of Lyss, who finds herself bound to the rarkyn, named Skaar. Both magically, which forms much of the plot, and through the loss they have both suffered. Together, they navigate their grief as well as their magical bond. Not only must they work together to sever the magical bond that ties them together, they each share the common goal of overthrowing the Empire, an oppressive regime intent on controlling magic and the populace of the book’s world, Terresmir.
This novel is an epic fantasy set in a vividly realised world which offers a lot of meat for fantasy fans to chew on. While the bond between Lyss and Skaar forms the heart of the story, the plot of the story is absolutely massive in scope. It is also a young adult book, featuring a fourteen year-old protagonist, who, through the events of the book, has a coming of age adventure. If you’re considering purchasing this for a younger reader, it’s worth noting that the epic fantasy aspects of the story result in violence and death, however the book doesn’t linger on the details, and instead uses this to explore the cost of such violence. The Rarkin’s Familiar also eschews the romance trope so prevalent in YA stories, with the emotional crux coming from the relationship between Lyss and Skaar. Their connection in the book is natural and heartfelt, and in many ways reminded me of Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki.
At 514 pages in hardcover (and an estimated 510 pages in your eReader, but apparently only 460 pages in paperback), The Rarkyn’s Familiar is a dense read, particularly given its young adult target audience. The book doesn’t hold the reader’s hand, throwing them into the story and expanding the world as it goes. The book doesn’t take the time to explain everything to the reader, who must learn everything on the fly as they make their way through it. While seasoned epic fantasy fans will have no problem picking up the threads and following along, younger readers used to more simplistic narratives will likely need to pay close attention to the book.
Throughout the novel, Lee uses shifting points of view to tell the story. These perspectives add depth to the presentation, and help to put the worldbuilding on display, as well as add character to the overarching story through its various perspectives. Throughout the book, various letters and diary entries add more perspective and background to the world, fleshing it out further.
This is underpinned by prose that is beautifully written. It puts the reader directly into the thick of events, and into the characters’ heads as the events unfold. Lee’s prose leaves little to the imagination, and transports the reader to Terresmir, painting a picturesque view of the world, its characters and events. The novel is filled with beautiful turns of phrase that accentuate the world and its characters. At points, however, the prose feels overwritten, spending more time than it needs to paint its picturesque view. While the prose is an absolute pleasure to read, it can result in story elements becoming lost within it, and often slows the pace.
The novel doesn’t feature huge amounts of dialogue, though, meaning the prose does most of the heavy lifting, and the conversations throughout are easy to follow. But as beautiful as the prose is, the dialogue does feel a little flat in comparison. While it serves its purpose and all the characters have their own distinct voices, it lacks that same spark and beauty.
The characters throughout The Rarkyn’s Familiar are thoroughly engaging and entertaining throughout. Whether they’re major characters, sitting within supporting roles or playing a minor part in the overall story, they are all incredibly fun to follow. I would have appreciated a little more of a stronger story arc from Lyss, but this is the first part of The Rarkyn Trilogy, and as this progresses, I can see her character evolving over time.
As mentioned above, although it doesn’t mention it on the cover or in its blurb, The Rarkyn’s Familiar is the first book in a trilogy, which is something to keep in mind if you have a firm opinion about reading books in a series. It works as a largely standalone story and feels like a complete read, but by the time you reach the end of the book, it is clear there is more of Lyss and Skaar’s story to be told.
The Rarkyn’s Familiar is a beautifully written story that offers plenty of depth for fans of epic fantasy. While it is also aimed at young adult readers, this depth also results in a book that is more complex than many of its contemporaries. While I found it to be a little overwritten, this is a book full of beautiful prose that will absolutely captivate its audience.
Terror swallowed her. It locked her limbs, grabbed her guts and twisted. The world slowed, then dropped away—dulling like an old painting. Faded to gray. A hot tingle stabbed down her spine. Needle teeth and white maw filled her vision.The Rarkyn’s Familiar, Part Two: “Outlaw,” Chapter 20
The Rarkyn’s Familiar was provided by StoryOrigin for the purpose of an honest review.
The Rarkyn’s Familiar is available in both physical and eBook forms from book retailers (including—but not limited to—Amazon).
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