Sanchez debuts with an entertaining but slightly stilted fantasy that finds magicless Naturals at war with magic-wielding Spectrals. Ever since King Valeri of Pandaren was allegedly assassinated by an Air Spectral, a group of human assassins called Hunters have been killing unregistered Spectrals with impunity. For Azrael, aka the Angel of Death, this mission is personal; he seeks to avenge his own dead family. But then an Amplifier serum intended to make him stronger leads to unexpected side effects: he feels the emotions of the Spectrals he was taught to loathe from childhood, experiencing their fear and pain. This doesn’t sit well with Commander Drexus Zoldac, the Hunters’ leader, who ousts Azrael from its ranks. Now Azrael’s vengeance has a new target: his former colleagues. There’s palpable tension and intrigue as Azrael plots his revenge and gains knowledge about both his world and his own identity. The writing, however, feels stiff and formal, and tends to dull the action scenes. Luckily, the colorful cast helps to counterbalance the flat prose. Fantasy readers willing to put in some work will find this worthwhile. (Feb.)
A vicious warrior learns about his fractured past and attempts to forge a brighter future in this fantasy debut.
Seventeen years ago, the kingdom of Pandaren defeated its enemies, the Vastanes. But the celebrations ended when an Air Spectral killed King Valeri. With Queen Valeri too ill to rule, Kenneth Brenet became the kingdom’s steward. Cmdr. Drexus Zoldac then created an elite team of Hunters to enforce new laws that made Spectrals, or magic users, second-class citizens. Now, Azrael, the best of the Hunters, takes a serum to gain Spectral powers. With most Spectrals registered or jailed, his Watch Guard scours the region for Amps, whose magic can be stolen and bestowed on Zoldac’s fighters. Yet when Azrael starts feeling sympathy for the villagers they terrorize, he’s set up and attacked on Zoldac’s orders. Badly injured, he’s tossed in Bradwick Prison. But soon, Azrael is rescued by the warriors Kord and Kenz Haring. They bring him to meet Amycus Reins, the Air Spectral wanted for the king’s death. So begins Azrael’s new life in Carhurst, where he learns that his real name is Jasce Farone. His mother, killed by a Spectral wielding black fire, was a Spectral herself—and so is he. Will the path of vengeance ruin Jasce’s chance for a normal life with the Harings, who see him as more than just a killer? Sanchez’s series opener is a robust blend of fantasy and romance, seeded with twists for a consistently rewarding read. Once the protagonist sheds his murderous persona, he nevertheless worries that Kenz, whom he gradually falls for, deserves someone with a clean past. A skillful, teasing eroticism laces the narrative, with Jasce and Kenz pining for each other, as in the lines “He inhaled her clean, citrus scent, his eyes dropping to her mouth,” and “She licked her lips, and desire punched him in the gut.” The violence is never overindulgent, though several heads do roll. By the end, Jasce’s familial dynamic has changed, both for good and ill. The sequel will have much to explore.
A well-balanced romance/fantasy that fans of both genres can enjoy.