Structurally, this storyline is sound, reminiscent of adventure fantasy classics such as Moorcock's History of the Runestaff quartet and Zelazny's Amber sequence. The three main characters, although two-dimensional, embark on interesting and action-packed journeys. After being found guilty of being part of the party that opened up the gate, Tamar Kedemah , a recently graduated soldier, is exiled to a remote island populated by nightmarish beasts; and young priest Abida Meteba is essentially imprisoned in the subterranean catacombs beneath the temple. Kader Balhannan, who initially escaped punishment, is swept up in the chaos that ensues later on and is forced to leave Azaria.
Joseph's debut fantasy breaks peace, incites war and splits three friends from humble beginnings. In the peaceful kingdom of Azaria (curiously without the "h" from the title), three friends entering adulthood decide to prolong the last of their carefree days by journeying into the wilderness. There, with the help of the reluctant priest among them, they open a gate sealed since the founding of their nation. What lies on the opposite side is a dark realm of misery and sin; that corruption encapsulated there seeps into the pure soil of their homeland. The often-ineloquent prose sometimes leans too much on trivialities--like letting readers know how many of the world's inhabitants are of "average height"--and the novel struggles with faulty grammar and poor sentence structure. The weak execution of these basic mechanics serves to hold the title back from its true potential. That being said, there are hints of an impressive story: When the heroes eventually make a particularly fateful decision, the story doubles in imaginative depth. The author successfully merges the stories of his three protagonists, whose hapless adventures lead toward destruction and ruin for their families and homes. It's a fascinating portrayal of the dangers of folly, but the book's success is also tempered due to its failure to emotionally engage readers by providing characters with powerful motivations. Meckhema is supposedly an evil land, but readers see little of its terror. If Joseph were to hone his storytelling skills, then his knack for the genre could more easily shine through. A flawed novel with glimpses of an awesome imagination.