Although fantasy worlds are in abundance at the moment, there is always room for fantasy fiction as fresh and smart as The Demon King and the Boy Who Hardly Knew Anything. Pat Ellis may be a first-time writer, but this debut novel has the echoes of a much more mature and seasoned author.
In the generations-long struggle between the magic of Aranfeit and the technological brilliance of Morandia, there are countless stories to tell, and the riveting chunks of exposition throughout this novel welcome readers into this new land – one where “traditional” fantasy and futuristic sci-fi elements seem to coexist.
While the King of Morandia embarks on another crusade to break through the magical defenses of his neighbor to the south, the young and somewhat foppish prince of that magical realm is entrusted with a sacred talisman that could save the world – or destroy any chance of a future. Little does anyone know that Morandia has joined forces with a much darker form of evil, one bent on destroying the human race.
Prince Greylock is the younger brother to the fiery Fry, both of whom are princes of Aranfeit. As the title of the novel implies, Prince Greylock isn’t a classic hero, in any sense of the word – deferential, a bit cowardly, and lacking in social graces and charm. However, the transformation of his character over the course of the book is remarkable; the classic fantasy trope of zero to hero is not in short supply here.
Grey, as he is known, also has a loyal companion Layla, a ward of his court with a sharp tongue and a notably dominant personality. Layla, more than many other characters, is well-shaped and consistently in the action, unlike so many female characters in fantasy that are brushed to the side as little more than traveling companions. The slow-burning relationships that Ellis creates in this book are also nearly as fascinating as the intricate plot, with family ties and childhood loyalty being challenged by new love and a sense of growing chaos in the world at large.
As with most fantasy novels, there are sections that become dominated by action, but Ellis is a consummate storyteller, and doesn’t sacrifice content for flashy payoffs or cheap, gory narration. Every chapter is well-crafted to give readers an emotional ride, and there are very few parts of this book that could be considered slow-moving. The richness of the writing, coupled with the unique twists in the plot, make it difficult to put down, especially the final third, which seems to fly by.
There are very few grammatical errors in the novel, although the sentence structure does become somewhat repetitive and choppy at times. Few of these small stumbles detract from the quality of the story, however, which is an instantly classic fantasy about good vs. evil and progress vs. tradition that demonstrably shows off Ellis’ significant writing chops.
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