I had the pleasure of reading an early draft of this book, but it was long enough ago that I came into the final version with mostly fresh eyes and more than enjoyed a second visit to this world. This series debut presents a fascinating urban fantasy world that separates religious mythology and imagery from overt religious themes and ties it all into aspects of elemental magic to create some truly original world-building. Campa’s risk with the St. Louis setting more than pays off with how his personal knowledge of the city truly brings all facets of this world to life.
The first chapter verges on info-dumping, but it does a lot of heavy lifting as Campa introduces us to the main character and many important elements of the world, giving us a lot of the “who” and “what” even if we don’t yet understand the “why.” Luckily, we don’t linger in that confusion long as we are quickly drawn into the already-exciting reality of Arturo’s everyday life, then accompany him (and his fellow Sentinels) through the thrilling, and escalating, intrigue and threats of supernatural war. Campa’s refusal to take the literary shortcut of traditional religious tropes allows for a more nuanced style of storytelling about the nature of good versus evil while still reinforcing the notion that extremism on any side is a dangerous game to play. I love a contemporary fantasy world in which the characters still get to play with swords, which Campa justifies nicely, and the conflicts and combat are suitably violent for the physical and magical weapons at play without ever becoming gratuitous or overly dark. I also appreciated that the full cast (on all shifting sides of the conflict) featured a solid gender balance, with each fully competent in their actual areas of expertise, even the two trainees.
Throughout everything, Arturo also faces an interesting internal conflict that mirrors the book’s external conflict, which ties into his identity as a Sentinel. Neither of these conflicts are resolved easily, each involving some great misdirects and unexpected trauma. Though the launch of a series, the external issue is fully resolved without a cliffhanger, while still leaving plenty of room for more story in this expansive world. We also get an unexpected but lovely solution to Arturo’s inner conflict that makes me curious about what impact it will have on the greater world. I highly recommend this book to readers looking for a solid urban fantasy written by a new and creative voice in the genre.
Disclaimer: Though I read an early draft of this book, I purchased a hardcopy final version from the author for full price.