[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
An enjoyable middle-grade novel, even though not the most original ever. Denizen (not the best of names, to be honest) is an orphan, grew up in an orphanage, has never known his parents, and nobody has information about them. But on his 13th birthday, an aunt he was never told about offers to have him home for a few days… and perhaps more?
After this start somewhat common to a lot of books in this category, and somewhat slow as well, things picked up. Denizen is introduced to a new world, and the author isn’t shy of showing that world’s darkness, literally (the Tenebrous) as well as figuratively: the magic has its toll, and is of the kind you need to use scarcely, otherwise it burns its users. Granted, I found the world-building a bit shoddy in places—great concepts, like the Endless King, the Emissary and Os Reges (the latter were beautiful and haunting, in their own twisted, creepy ways), but the Knights seemed to hold little enough information about their own Order and history, which felt odd. I could sense there was much more to develop here, yet was unsure whether it’d be in a next novel in the series, or something that just… wasn’t too thought-out.
In general, the characters were enjoyable. The Knights all had their little quirks, and Grey especially was a character I warmed up to very quickly. Denizen, too, in spite of some childish-pouting moments (he’s 13, after all), was overall a lovable kid. He’s ready to fight for his friends and even for strangers, yet also as savvy enough to obey orders and not get in the way, not too much that is, where I would have expected too stupid to live moments. And when he does “get in the way”, usually it’s because someone’s life is at stake and there’s no other apparent solution, since trying to find help would take too much time. There was one specific moment when his decision felt stupid; this said, it was prompted by wanting to help someone he trusts a lot, so it makes it more… understandable? It wasn’t some silly reason like “wanting to impress the others”, it stemmed from a genuine desire to help.
I hope Simon will be more developed in the next novels, as he seems interesting too but obviously couldn’t be devoted much time to, being at the orphanage and all. Also, I feared some romance with Abigail, but for now she seems to be more the potential friend than potential love interest, and it’d be great if things stayed like that, because I can’t sense much between Denizen and her in terms of “romance chemistry”.
Where this novel fell flat for me, apart from the world building, was in how its characters, albeit sympathetic, weren’t given enough spotlight. Especially the Knights (Darcie, D’Aubigny, Fuller Jack). Getting to know them better would help in making me feel closer, more involved. Finally, some twists were of the expected kind, and not always handled as well as they could have been.
However, in general, it was a good read, that I went through like a breeze. I think that in terms of “fantasy, magic and adventure books for a middle-grade audience”, it will keep its intended readers entertained. 3 stars, going on 3.5.