Aidan Thomas is a young teenager who resents his family’s move across the country until he comes across a set of scrolls in his grandfather’s basement. They tell a story in which he mysteriously becomes embroiled, travelling to The Realm to join the elite warriors of King Eliam. Aidan has to undergo intensive training as a warrior and to prove his worth on the journey, helped by Gwenne, a girl of about his age who’s already an accomplished warrior.
If you’re coming along for a swords-and-sorcery tale with young heroes and gripping battles, then this may leave you satisified. On the other hand, you may just find the Christian elements somewhat overwhelming, and in contrast the slight creakiness of the writing somewhat underwhelming.
King Eliam is betrayed by an honoured friend and gives his life for his people. Aidan’s parents and his grandfather recognise this as The Story, a bestselling book which many own but which few have read. Aidan mystically enters The Realm and joins a group loyal to the resurrected King whose task is to sway the undecided people of the land away from the temptations of riches which lead to enslavement and towards the King who offers peace and wisdom.
The parallel with the Christian message is clear: people who follow Christ must win over those who are drawn to more worldly delights. This will involve suffering and sacrifice. At no point in either world is God mentioned, or Christianity. But the Christian elements are far too much to the fore, I suspect, for many people’s taste. Your opinion may vary.
In The Realm, Aidan undertakes a fairly by-the-book transformation from untutored stripling into brave warrior, helped by the benevolent ribbing of his comrades-in-arms, and especially the young love interest Gwenne with whom by the end he’s held hands a few times and exchanged a couple of kisses on the cheek. The Warriors work well together, supporting each other despite good-natured rivalry. Their countersign, so to speak, is Never Alone, a reference both to their comradeship and to their reliance on the power of their King. Each one recognises that he has been chosen in spite of his own defects. There’s nothing wrong with all this, but none of it is especially inspired either. In the same expected way, Aidan makes a couple of embarrassing goofs but then makes good by saving a few lives by his own daring and initiative.
Aidan’s own language is vernacular (American) schoolboy, which is understandable if not especially interesting. What’s less understandable is the form of cod-mediaeval which the Glimpses (the denizens of The Realm) speak, laced with forsooth and verily but occasionally lapsing into modern-speak. I’m afraid a couple of almost literal deus ex machina moments really didn’t work for me. There are more subtle and consequently more effective uses of the King’s power in the book, such as the moment when Aidan is inspired to lay down his sword before the black knight who’s trying to taunt him into a fight. Perhaps one can’t help feeling that King Eliam is just too much in evidence. The episode when Aidan is dazzled by the King’s glory put me rather in mind of a scene from Star Trek.
Then there’s the allegory within the allegory: each of the Glimpses, the people of The Realm, has a counterpart in our world, and Aidan meets both his “father” and his grandfather”, although not his mother’s nor his own counterpart. This obviously has the effect of making Aidan think rather more about his own father and grandfather, not least since his infirm and uninteresting grandfather has a virile and vivid alter ego in The Realm. It’s an interesting idea, although I’m not sure if the author intends to develop it in later books. Ultimately I was interested enough in Aidan and his adventures to be interested in future volumes.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of goodtoread.org.