Damien Black's Reviews > Keys of the Origin

Keys of the Origin by Melissa A. Joy
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it was amazing

** spoiler alert ** This book is not for the light reader, and hard-core fans of epic fantasy should be well pleased with this first instalment in the Scions of Balance series. Keys of the Origin is an immersive venture into a meticulously crafted high fantasy world, with multiple actors both mortal and immortal revolving around a layered plot that unfolds gradually. But don’t worry: there is plenty of action to keep you going while you get your head around Joy’s mind-bending world-building and devious plotting, and as someone who recently started reading the Horatio Hornblower/Jack Aubrey books, I was rather taken by the high seas flavour to her storytelling. I’m told Joy sails in her spare time, and can well believe it – she certainly appears to have done her research.

Joy's pantheon is reminiscent of Tolkien's in its richness; the Origin are forgotten gods who made the world aeons ago; the Nays, Fey and Elves three distinct but related immortal races created by deity-like figures who came after. Of the Nays were born the Drahknyr, angelic warrior beings in the Old Testament sense who can fly, are near invulnerable, command formidable powers and can wreak havoc when they feel it’s warranted. Foremost among them are the select Kaesan Drahknyr, and after three thousand years, they have woken up...

The reason behind their reawakening is Zerrçainne, a renegade sorceress once of the Nays but now following her own path, who appears (quite literally) hell-bent on raising or tapping a shadowy being called Alymarn, whom I took to be some sort of Sauron/Lucifer type figure. Though this appears to be her ultimate goal, the narrative focuses on Zerrçainne’s more mortal meddlings, for her scheming has taken her deep into the continent of Armaran, once colonised by the technologically advanced Nays but now populated by less sophisticated humans, where she is facilitating a plot by the kingdom of Adengeld to invade its neighbour Faltainyr Demura. Into this mix we have scheming dukes and princes on either side of the border, whose intentions are anything but loyal to their respective lieges. Zerrçainne, a machiavellian manipulator with a pet demon and a dragon on the payroll, is only too happy to embroil these ambitious men of power in her own wider schemes. Thus while mortal actors play their petty games of usurpation and rivalry, the immortal Drahknyr look on with growing consternation as a conflict of much greater magnitude brews on the horizon…

Against this panoramic backdrop we have our two chosen ones: Larkh, a former scion of the aristocracy who took to piracy after watching his entire family slaughtered, and Zehn, an elite warrior driven by duty – and a strong desire to bring Larkh to justice. Larkh is a bit of a cynic and something of a womanizer too, a dashing rakehell sort that evokes an 18th century Treasure Island/Pirates of the Caribbean type milieu. I felt him to be by far the more intriguing character than his stuffy counterpart Zehn, who seemed more of a loyal soldier than your typical in-it-for-the-money type mercenary. They make for a compelling contrast, and their aggressive rivalry is gripping reading: right from the get-go we have the pair squaring off against one another swords awhirl. However this is a tale that is destined to bring them together, as they learn they are in fact the Keys long foretold in prophecy. As such they are forced to mend fences by two mutual friends, half-elven warlock Raeon and amnesiac seeress Arcaydia, who have also been ordained a part to play in the coming saga. It’ll be interesting to see how the two Keys get along in future books as, prophecy or no, there is still no love lost between them … I anticipate a fraught friendship at best!

The narrative jumps around a lot and there are multiple POVs; as a writer Joy definitely has a touch of the swashbuckler about her and I enjoyed the heady mixture of swordfights, naval battles, supernatural duels and dragon invasions. I don’t think any fantasy writer could claim to surpass her imagination, and this is some of the best world-building I’ve encountered, with a history dating back millennia and beautiful nomenclature that I found to be quite unique; however, I did feel that I was getting an awful lot thrown at me, and at times I had trouble keeping track of who was who among the immortal protagonists, some of whom seem to evoke the classical Greek gods: looking on from afar, intervening occasionally and offering advice to their shock troops, the Kaesan Drahknyr, before despatching them to Armaran to counter Zerrçainne.

The maps are beautifully illustrated so I was never lost geographically, but there is a lot of exposition in this book, and some might feel this gets in the way of the story occasionally. The author often steps out of the narrative to impart vital background information; this was generally fine, but occasionally I felt it could have been worked more seamlessly into the narrative, for instance through dialogue and storytelling between the characters. Bear in mind that this is just a personal preference, and other readers may feel differently. Had it been my gig, I would have pared it back slightly in places, but nonetheless this stands out as an exceptional piece of fantasy reminiscent of classic storytelling in the genre yet original in its own right – usually a good sign in my eyes.

I look forward to book #2, but I’ll be far more intrigued to catch up with Larkh, Zehn and their mortal companions than the immortal types to be honest. Madukeyr, Melkhar and Kalthis, three Kaesan Drahknyr sent to Armaran to try and stop the feckless humans making a mess of things, were very well drawn but I found it difficult to relate to them. This is probably as it should be though: immortal beings are not types to cosy up to after all, and I thought they were quite believable. Still, I can’t help but feel more invested in what will happen to Larkh & co… well hey, I am only human!

All in all I thought this was a rich, evocative piece of storytelling that will probably reward re-reading at some point, a promising debut from an up-and-coming fantasy author with a boundless imagination. I could actually say a lot more about this book, not least Joy’s authentic stab at an Elvish-type language, or the likeable support characters including the motley crew of Larkh’s magically enhanced ship Greshendier… but I’ll leave you to find out all those things for yourself.
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Reading Progress

May 6, 2017 – Shelved
May 6, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
July 24, 2017 – Started Reading
July 25, 2017 –
page 110
18.9%
July 28, 2017 –
page 166
28.52%
July 30, 2017 –
page 214
36.77%
July 30, 2017 –
page 286
49.14%
July 31, 2017 –
page 300
51.55%
August 4, 2017 –
page 382
65.64%
August 6, 2017 –
page 406
69.76%
August 7, 2017 –
page 419
71.99%
August 9, 2017 –
page 442
75.95%
August 10, 2017 –
page 482
82.82%
August 11, 2017 – Finished Reading

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