Jonathan Renshaw, the debut author of Dawn of Wonder, hits it out of the park with this fantasy novel. It has the heart of a coming of age tale, the mischief of a mystery, and the vigor of a warrior’s plight. I hate to use this pun, but Dawn of Wonder is a wonderful debut.
It’s not all perfect. It meanders quite a bit, and it’s not always as fun as it should be. But much of that seemingly meaningless meandering is well-spent real estate, so to speak, as it’s used to flesh out much of the characters, primary or otherwise. This is especially true for many of Aeden’s friends, who’s antics truly become a joy to read as the story continues. Interestingly these friends will have a much larger role than some other friends within the fantasy genre that I can think about, though it’s not entirely clear what role that will be.
Our main character, Aeden, is a strong, engaging child protagonist, who’s mentality of being “almost 13,” despite being barely 12 is all too believable. But despite his strength, he’s a broken character – for reasons I’ll save for you to find out – and that’s often as frightening as it is endearing. His naivety to life and the world around him gets him into trouble, but it’s his cunning and strategic thinking that save the lives of him and those around him many times. He’s a joy to follow.
The world Renshaw has created relies on a certain level of realism to accomplish. You won’t find dragons flying around or mages casting spells. This is a world more in line with European customs and it’s problems circa 1600, but with a hierarchy that seems to care quite a bit more about their subjects.
And that’s where the “wonder,” comes in. Though our protagonist has set his sights on war with another country early on, for reasons, there is an unexplainable trouble brewing at the heart of the story. When this wonder eventually culminates into the book’s climactic reveal, it’s a stunning accomplishment. Though this novel is extremely low in magic, I expect the next installment to change that. But don’t expect a magic in any way similar to what you’ve read before.
This novel has one of, if not the best dungeon experiences I’ve ever read in a book. Imagine your best dungeon experience in a video game, film, or rpg. And then multiply the intensity by 10, add more traps, and make your strongest characters essentially useless – and then maybe you’ll reach the level of awesome that is Kultûhm. Dungeon Masters, take note.
This is a startlingly fresh debut from an author poised to join some of the genre greats. The stage is set for the second novel in the series, and hopefully it holds up to this level of expertise. I recommend this book highly. One of 2016’s best by far.