Book Review and Author Interview: Darkmage (The Rhenwars Saga #1) by M.L. Spencer
The author M.L. Spencer kindly agreed to answer some of my questions! So, below is my review and following is the interview.
This grimdark fantasy book follows the story of Darien Lauchlin, a rebellious but honourable mage who returns to his hometown to take his official mage oath only to see the city, and his loved ones, destroyed by his wicked brother. Said brother opens a portal to the netherworld and unleashes all kinds of hellish creatures on the real world. Darien must regain control, even if that means he has to break the oath he holds so dear…
The narrative is told for the most part from Darien’s point of view, as well as a character called Kyel who is in the wrong place at the wrong time with a gambler friend and is sent to the ‘front’. There is a war raging between the empire of The Rhen and The Black Lands, where the Enemy resides. The Enemy lives in darkness and is encroaching on Darien and Kyel’s land. There are a few other character POVs, including Darien’s mother and Darien’s soldier friends at the front.
Darien returns to the front after his hometown is destroyed and devises deeply-woven plots to hold back the Enemy, including bringing together the various armies across The Rhen to fight as one. He must make tough decision after tough decision and suffer some huge personal sacrifices in order to do his duty as one of the last surviving mages after his brother’s atrocity.
Kyel is a more down-to-earth character. He doesn’t have a powerful family like Darien or a deep feeling of duty and destiny. But he’s a good, decent guy. Basically, a run of bad luck leads him to fight at the front. He’s not a soldier, but realises he has some skill as an archer and comes to the attention of Darien. Darien devises ways for Kyel to learn and develop which aren’t always to Kyel’s liking.
From the opening prologue the emotional intensity of this book was high with a dark and ominous atmosphere that continues throughout. The looming conflict with the Enemy creates a wonderfully grim tension. And the desperate measures Darien and his allies take to attempt to save their world, and the people within, have a sense that they are just about clinging on but at any moment the thin thread will snap.
The characters are really well developed, and we spend a lot of time in the minds of Darien and Kyel. There is plenty of action and some epic fight scenes, as well as some more intimate moments between friends and lovers.
I really enjoyed this story, there was some interesting worldbuilding and magic concepts. However, I did want to spend more time with the one main female character, Naia, and not just through Darien’s perspective. I was also hoping we’d see more from Darien’s mother as well as a feisty Queen, Romana, but unfortunately not.
Darkmage is a treat for grimdark fantasy fans who appreciate well-crafted characters and a heavy sense that ‘good’ is probably not going to win. And if it does, it’s going to have to go through a lot of ‘bad’ to get there!
My rating: 4.5/5
Goodreads | Author website
Q. Please tell us a little about yourself?
Well, I am married, have three children, by day I work as a biology teacher, and I am a jack of all traits master of pretty much none. Writing consumes my life. Before I wrote, I used to: be a windsurfing instructor, play MMORPGs, play keyboards in a gothic rock band, read, paint, and even socialize occasionally lol.
Q. What is your favourite book and why?
Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Series. Why? It has its flaws, but it’s ultimately the most epic series with the most relatable characters I’ve ever read.
Q. What got you into writing?
I was writing from pretty much the time I picked up a pencil. I think my mom made me pick up that pencil, but I can’t remember.
Q. Darkmage is the first book in The Rhenwars Saga. There is also a prequel (book 0.5), and books 2 and 3. Where did the idea for the series come from?
The whole point of the Rhenwars Saga is to show that in every polarizing conflict, both sides believe they are right and justified, while demonizing the enemy. Rhenwars was written to point out that each side of any conflict has legitimate and compelling issues that drive their actions.
Rhenwars was conceived after 9/11, when I was still trying to wrap my mind around why anyone would want to fly an aircraft into a building (or three). So I started trying to understand the conflict between the West and the Middle East from both sides of the War on Terrorism.
After learning a bit about the area’s history with the West, cultural climate, religious perspectives, etc., I was able to get a better understanding of both sides of the picture, and how EACH side believes they are morally justified in employing sometimes atrocious tactics in order to advance their political positions.
It’s really a very fascinating topic, how two sides can view themselves as justified and morally righteous, while labelling the other side as malevolent and morally bankrupt. It all comes down to a perspective shift. A great example of this is the current political climate in the West.
Q. What did you most enjoy about writing The Rhenwars Saga?
I most enjoyed creating a host of characters who—no matter which side of the war they fought on—were a broad range of “good” and “evil.”
Q. How long did it take you to write Darkmage? Any substantial changes whilst writing?
I wrote Darkmage in 40 days. It was crazy. The first manuscript was 230,000 words long. It has since been put on a tremendous diet, now weighing in at about 160,000 words.
Q. Who is your favourite character in Darkmage and why?
I love Darien, because he is a pretty complex character. Throughout the book, we see him as getting darker and darker, until by the end, he seems be thoroughly corrupted. But if you look hard at his personality at the beginning of the story (when we see him as the typical hero archetype), he really doesn’t change much—he’s the same guy, with the same morals. The only thing that changes throughout the story is the environment around him.
Darien was hard to write, as it is difficult to take a character and show him progressively becoming “evil” while maintaining sympathy for that character.
Q. Can you tell us more about Darklands, The Rhenwars Saga Book 2?
Darklands swings the story around to the perspective of the “bad guys”, where we get an idea of what their issues are and their reasons for fighting the war with the Rhen.
In Darkmage, we saw them as the archetypal Enemy, a demonic horde from the archetypal Black Lands (yes, those names were intentional!) But starting with Darklands, we began seeing them as feeling/thinking humans that have legitimate and compelling reasons for fighting the war.
In fact, many of my readers end up thinking the Enemy is more justified than the “good guys!”
Q. What writing projects are you currently working on / excited about?
I am just now finishing up the edits on Rhenwars. After that, I’ve got an idea for another epic fantasy series in the works.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/MLSpencersDarkEmpire/
Thanks M.L.! Darkmage is available from Amazon here.
>>My debut novel, a grimdark epic fantasy called MELOKAI, is out now! Available from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play Books, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. Read more about my books here.<<
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