Aether Warriors

Aether Warriors

First published in 2013, Aether Warriors is the debut novel of Dean Ravenola. It forms the first part of The Hidden War Series, though at the time of writing this review there has been no word regarding future instalments. The story follows a teenage orphan named Chase as he discovers that he is destined to become a warrior for the forces of good in a war that has been going on for centuries, hidden from the eyes of mortals.

Chase Poole has not had a very happy upbringing. Abandoned as a baby, he has been forced to live in a terribly cruel orphanage and longs to find a way to get away from it all. However, his escape comes in a way that he never would have expected. When he caught in a fight between a gargoyle and a teenage girl, he taps into magical powers that he never knew that he had in order to protect her.

The girl, named Jasmine, is revealed to belong to an ancient order called the Golden Scales and has been sent to locate Chase and bring him back to their stronghold in the Grand Canyon. Once there Chase learns that he is a Aether Warrior – one of five magical humans that are born into every generation, each possessing the powers of their totem animal and ability to twist aether (the life force of the planet) in order to use powerful elemental magic.

As Chase begins his training, learning to use the power of the red tailed hawk to fuel his attacks, he begins to gradually learn that his situation is incredibly dangerous. The Golden Scales fight to defend the world and all the people in it, they are engaged in an endless war with another order – the Dark Flame – who seek only to enslave and destroy. The Dark Flame also have a group of Aether Warriors that are being trained for this task and, to make matters worse, seem to have had one of their spies infiltrate to Golden Scales.

It is up to Chase and his new friends to locate this mole and stop them before they can gain access to any of the powerful artefacts that are sealed within the vaults and deliver them into the hands of those that would certainly use them for evil.

Aether Warriors is a fantastically exciting and fast-paced read. The action begins right in chapter one and maintains a steady pace from then onwards. We experience what it is to be an Aether Warrior directly from the perspective of Chase, and so every aspect of their order and abilities is neatly presented in a way that is easily understood. The story is immersive and very quick to hook the reader. While I felt that the opening was maybe a little too fast (Chase is quick to abandon his childhood friend and run off with a stranger), within the space of a few chapters I had already become curious as to how the story would unfold and therefore at least never found the story to drag in anyway. The on-going suspense as to the identity of the traitor and colourful depictions of the fauna of the hidden world was more than enough to keep my interest throughout.

The author’s imagination is readily apparent in the descriptions of the fantastical creatures that Chase encounters on his journey, ranging from fantasy favourites such as griffins and golems to impressive original creations fresh from Ravenola’s imagination. My personal favourite was the himptag – a mysterious mothman-esque entity possessing of many odd powers. The impressive array of cryptids really allow the author to have free reign and leads to some pretty creative sequences where Chase and his friends have to learn how to work together to deal with all kinds of magical threats.

However, the story does suffer from a lack of originally. Although it did at first feel fresh and exciting, I realised as I read that I had seen a lot of the plot elements deployed in other works. The mistreated orphan learning that he is magical and going to live in an institute to learn how to use his powers has a certain whiff of the Harry Potter about it, while the merging of technology and mythology is very reminiscent of Artemis Fowl. It may be a coincidence, but I also thought I saw some elements of my childhood favourite, Animorphs, in the mix as well. There were five teenagers with the ability to turn into animals, even including one who could become a red tailed hawk (Tobias’s preferred morph of the Animorphs series). There was even the risk of becoming trapped in an animal form forever – portrayed in Aether Warriors in Sam the humanoid rat – which is another limitation that the Animorphs faced in Applegate’s series.

Even with the similarities of existing series’ removed, Aether Warriors still contained a lot of clichés that are common to fantasy novels. There was the existence of a prophecy (though this volume did not elaborate further as to what this is), the orphaned hero, the cosmically powerful artefact, the battle between two sides that can be summed up as ‘good’ and ‘evil’. It’s a shame that these tropes do pop up so regularly in young adult fantasy novels, as individually they are not necessarily bad. They just have become the things that everyone expects from a fantasy novel and thus don’t feel quite as fresh anymore as they once did.

Yet, even with these points in mind, I did find Aether Warriors to be a really enjoyable read and I think it holds a lot of appeal for a teenage fantasy fanatic. The primary cast are all very strong and likable, each showing very different personalities. I like that care had also been put into making each of the Aether Warriors reminiscent of their animal sides – from the cold, insectoid nature of Juno (the mantis) to the hyper-kinetic Greggy (the spider monkey). The usage of more unconventional animal totems was also very refreshing. In a lot of stories of this type, characters embody typically powerful animals such as lions and elephants, yet Ravenola managed to show the strengths of less likely creatures such as goats and chameleons in creative and interesting ways.

However, not all of the characters received the same care. The villains really do just exist purely to be evil. From what little we see of them, they do not seem to show any redeemable character traits at all. They even all look rough and shifty, leaving me with no real grasp of their individual personalities or attributes. I can’t even remember some of their names, which shows just how little impression they made on me. The only female character in the novel, Jasmine, was also a disappointment. Although she started out strong and likable, eventual plot developments regarding her back-story lead to her becoming a rather typical fantasy female character type. I won’t go into any further detail than this to avoid severe spoilers but I was incredibly frustrated by the author’s treatment of her.

On top of this, Chase does come across as a bit of a Gary-Stu. He does not really seem to have any weaknesses within the novel, accepting his destiny with hardly a second thought and developing powerful abilities to an advanced level within only a couple of day’s training. He is well liked by all of the characters, seemingly incapable of failure and possesses incredible magical powers (as well as the ability to fly, though I was somewhat confused why Juno would not share this ability as mantids also have wings). In the absence of any flaws, I found it impossible to fully appreciate him as a protagonist.

Finally, I feel that I should mention the textual errors. Generally, I can ignore these in self-published novels as I appreciate that they often do not receive the degree of editing that a traditionally published book will but there were some really jarring continuity errors in this novel. The skeletal race known as the skulks were occasionally referred to as the sulks (possible auto-correct error?) while the author seemed to fluctuate between whether or not Bo’s animal totem was a frog or a toad. Finally, in one particularly magnificent error, a character towards the novel magnificently declares the words ‘garter snake’ in mid conversation. I’m not even entirely sure how that error would come about but it really took me by surprise as I was wondering for a few minutes if I had misunderstood some joke in the text. Some of these may seem like splitting hairs but they really were distracting in this novel and could have been easily avoided with a more careful check prior to publication.

So what did I think? Well, the novel did have some noticeable flaws that I think would be offensive to some critical readers – the clichés and similarities with other popular novels, the Gary-Stu main character and the lack of a strong female lead being my particular points of contention – however I’d be lying if I said that I did not really enjoy this novel. The premise and monsters are creative, the story is fast-moving and it sets a lot of things in motion that I hope will be developed in subsequent volumes. I would really recommend this novel to any fantasy-fan and I’m really looking forward to reading the next novel in the series.

Aether Warriors can be purchased as a Paperback on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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