Joseph Brassey’s Skyfarer is a classic fantasy adventure in all the ways that matter, being the first voyage of newly minted apprentice sorcerer Aimee Laurent aboard the magical skyship Elysium. Alongside her are master sorcerer Harkon, veteran fighter Bjorn, native-born skyship twins Vlana and Vant, and Clutch, the pilot.
Through what at first seems like incompetence on Aimee’s part, the Elysium plops into the middle of a war, and into the path of Azrael, the Black Knight, bent on the utter destruction his enemies and the retrieval of a magical object said to reveal all knowledge to those who possess it. Azrael’s ship is the Iron Hulk (aptly-named), and he’s part of the Eternal Order of magic-using knights waging war on a peaceful kingdom with the intent to rule the, well, whatever they can grab onto in an unusual universe where humans live on chunks of land in the sky, traversing the distances between in skyships with engines driven by magic.
The plot—a naive but talented apprentice’s first brush with true adventure (and danger)—will be familiar to most fantasy readers, or anyone who has ever played a Final Fantasy RPG all the way through (though probably that Venn diagram is more of a circle). Did we mention the quest for an all-powerful magical object that, depending on which legend you believe, can reveal either knowledge or truth? If you can see where this is going, that’s okay. The journey is the point. Everyone can be improved with a little adventure, especially Aimee’s.
They tromped up the loading ramp as the last of the dockworkers jogged down. Just before they entered the bay, Aimee turned to steal a last glance at home. From here, she could only see a small sliver of the port, and beyond it the expanse of Havensreach’s white walls. The floating upper ring where she’d grown up was out of sight, and she couldn’t see the mystic energy field of the portal shield enveloping the port, but her trained senses could feel it. Magic that protected. Magic that constrained.
Aimee allowed the glance to last only another moment, then turned resolutely towards the vessel’s interior. No more constraints. Time to fly. Freedom.
Aimee and Azrael trade the primary point of view chapters, though perspective occasionally shifts briefly to a member of the supporting cast. I expected to find Aimee’s story the most interesting—I love a young and endearing female lead, and the world needs more of those—but I found myself drawn to Azrael, because it’s clear from the jump that all is not as it seems with this Black Knight.
Alone, Azrael relaxed, planted his hands upon the table and let his nerves unwind. Outside the viewports, he could see the ragged remnants of the fleet fleeing. Lights darted back and forth across a smoke-stained sky. Each one represented lives in the balance. Azrael reached to his hip and pulled the enchanted sword of the dead prince from its sheath. He stared at the gleaming runes, felt the thrum of magic woven into the steel. It was old. The blade was cold, the grip warm. Calling upon his intuitive magic, he willed the name to reveal itself.
Oath of Aurum, the runes read.
A chill ran through his blood. He closed his eyes, and the image of burning walls and smoldering flowers flashed unbidden through his mind. A shriek ripped across his thoughts. A name.
For a moment, he couldn’t breathe.
Nothing. It was nothing.
If you’re picking up similarities to Kylo Ren, you might be right, though Azrael is much more focused, and much less prone to temper tantrums.
This is a world where humans are scattered across myriad floating islands—its origins murky even to its inhabitants—and the only way to travel is via the skyships whose destinations are set by sorcerers using special magical portals. Aimee’s ship is supposedly a survey vessel, but she senses from the beginning that it’s more than that. Her new shipmates have obviously been through the wringer prior to her arrival, providing backstory that should be interesting to mine in any future sequels—for example, why is mercenary magician Harkon driven to save people, even when he’s not being paid?
Brassey delivers on the action sequences, from the Elysium’s early, desperate attempts to escape the war, to an in-air battle with the sky forces of the Eternal Knights (including a boarding sequence that threatens to crash the ship), to a final showdown aboard the Iron Hulk, as Aimee and her crew try to destroy the vessel before it can unleash a magical weapon capable of laying waste to everyone they’re trying to protect.
Naturally, by the end of the quest, the magical object—the Axiom—has revealed its true nature, which surprises Harkon, Aimee, and, naturally, Azrael himself. (And us.)
I finished this book in one night, and smiled when it was over. For a weekend of fun fantasy reading, you can’t do much better.