With all the high fantasy stories in the world, you would be forgiven for thinking there are no original worlds left to be introduced to the genre’s readers. Such thinking is a fallacy, evidenced by the world of Aloseria, the setting of Rita A. Rubin’s Chronicles of the Guardians series, and, for the purposes of this review, its first entry, Amulet of Wishes. Like many high fantasy tales, it features dragons, mages, and many of the tropes that the genre’s devotees look for, but throughout the novel, the author has crafted a wonderful new world that puts a unique spin on these tropes. And in doing so, she has created a world that draws the reader into it and ensures they won’t want to leave.
No matter how beautifully enticing a fantasy world is (and Aloseria is as beautifully enticing as they come), it doesn’t mean much if the story being told doesn’t follow through. Telling the story of Derek Draco, one of the Guardians mentioned in the series title, Amulet of Wishes comes through in spades. Upon finding a fragment of the titular amulet, Derek and his friends embark upon a quest to seek out the remaining fragments. The story is filled with plenty of twists and turns as it builds towards its climax, peppered with plenty of action sequences and character moments throughout that entertain the reader.
Some readers have a brutal hatred of prologues and epilogues, and if you’re one of these readers, consider yourself warned: Amulet of Wishes has both. I’m of the firm belief that if they serve the story, these should be both included, and both indeed serve the story. The prologue packs a hell of a punch that grabs the reader’s attention; the epilogue serves as a reminder to the reader that the novel is indeed part of a series, and there’s plenty more story to come.
As brutal as Amulet of Wishes’ prologue is, as the story moves past this, it quickly becomes apparent that not only is this a fantasy novel, it’s a young adult novel that serves as a coming of age tale for Derek. While the book offers content warnings for blood, violence and gore, descriptions of corpses, sexual references, a suicide reference and implied childhood sexual abuse, these are all handled with a light touch. While it’s best to avoid the book if any of these themes are likely to trigger you, if you’re a younger reader (or considering this for a younger reader), it is all presented in a way that is suitable for teens, without glorifying the subject matter. Amulet of Wishes features a largely queer cast of characters, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and asexual characters, and presents all these as perfectly natural, as it should. Throughout the novel, Rubin doesn’t touch upon any queer experiences; she simply presents these sexualities as perfectly normal, and it was a joy to read them. While this should be applauded, I also appreciated the novel touching upon discrimination faced by the elves within the world.
Despite a length of 346 pages in paperback (or an estimated 282 pages if you’re reading it in your favourite eReader), Amulet of Wishes is a brisk read. The writing is light enough to read quickly, and won’t provide many issues for the target audience to make their way through. The book’s pacing helps this, as it moves through events quickly, without getting lost in unnecessary details. The plot moves along nicely, and while I feel that the first two chapters following the prologue could have been truncated, the story flows together well.
Rubin’s style of writing is inviting, filled with amusing asides that brought a smile to my face. As it does this, it provides all the information readers need and want, including background information and exploring Aloseria’s world. Despite this, at times, the prose doesn’t flow as nicely as I’d like. Likewise, the dialogue doesn’t sound particularly natural, and the character voices often sound similar to one another. At points, where a character is given a distinctive voice, it borders on cliche, and in one brief instance, a character sounded like a pantomime villain.
While Amulet of Wishes’ dialogue doesn’t ring true for me, it’s just one component of the characters, all of whom are wonderful to read. The book’s characters operate in shades of grey, making morally ambiguous decisions throughout the adventure. As the book’s point of view characters make these decisions, while the reader won’t necessarily agree with them, they will understand their reasoning. And most of all, they will root for them. Derek is a thoroughly engaging protagonist, and the other point of view characters are all fun to follow. The book hits the hallmarks of teen angst you can expect from a young adult read, and does so without feeling melodramatic. The characters’ interactions shine brightly, and through it, the theme of found family comes through beautifully.
As I mentioned earlier in the review, Amulet of Wishes is the first book in the Chronicles of the Guardians series, and it features an epilogue which promises more adventures to come. Despite the serialised nature of the ending, the novel works well as a standalone story, feeling like a complete experience. It will be continued in Lady Night (which I’ll have a review for in a couple of weeks—keep an eye out for that!), which promises more of the wonderful world Rubin has created, but it isn’t required reading to enjoy Amulet of Wishes.
While I have some reservations about some of its prose and dialogue, in every other aspect, Amulet of Wishes is an absolute joy to read. It casts a unique fantasy tale set in a wonderful world, and is populated by a beautiful cast of characters. Its themes are resonant, and it provides a wonderful—and natural—cast of queer characters. If you’re a fan of YA fantasy, or even one or the other, it is definitely worth grabbing a copy.
Every now and then, Jared would spot movement in the water down below that alerted him to the presence of water imps and each time, Jared couldn’t help but pause and observe them. They looked about the size of a small child, with bloated bodies covered in murky green scales and webbed hands and feet. At one point, when Jared stopped to watch one of them, sitting on a muddy riverbank and biting into a fish, it turned around and looked directly at him with a disfigured, frog-like face. It blinked its two, bulbous eyes at him before curling its lips back to reveal rows of tiny, needle-sharp teeth and hissed.Amulet of Wishes: Chronicles of the Guardians, Book 1, Chapter 8
Amulet of Wishes: Chronicles of the Guardians, Book 1 was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
Amulet of Wishes is available in physical and eBook forms from book retailers (including—but not limited to—Amazon).
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