Rise of the Mages (The Age of Ire, 1)

Image of Rise of the Mages (The Age of Ire, 1)
Release Date: 
January 24, 2023
Tor Books
Reviewed by: 

“This is old-school epic fantasy at its best . . .”

In an era where fantasy debuts are coming out faster than Marvel movies, it is difficult to find those that stick in the mind for more than ten minutes after the last page is turned. Amazon abounds with scads of self-published works that clog up Kindle apps on tablets and phones, so when a work of well-written, original fantasy arrives it can get lost in the horde.

Fortunately, Scott Drakeford made a big enough splash with his debut novel to get noticed. Deservedly so.

Emrael Ire comes from a now fallen royal line, reduced to being a student of war (i.e., weapons and tactical training) at the prestigious Citadel. With his brother Ban, a student crafter of Infusori items (substitute magic for infusori if that helps), the two try to find their way in life after the loss of their father.

When malicious priests of a fallen god join with political opportunists bent on war capture the Citadel, Emrael manages to escape with the help of his mentor Jaina, a fierce, no-nonsense warrior woman. Unfortunately, Ban is taken prisoner and placed under magical restraints, forced to use his considerable gifts to aid his captors.

This is the true beginning of this engaging quest fantasy. Emrael will do just about anything to save his brother, but must escape the pursuit of the evil, overly tattooed priests first. Along with Elle (a healer and eventual love interest), Emrael flees, pursued by those who want, who need, him dead.

At this point the book could descend into predictable tropes and action points to drive the story, bogging the reader down in the same old same old as seen in half the material out there. Fortunately, Drakeford avoids falling for that trap and strings the reader along with mystery, political intrigue, and an interesting magic system (infusori, remember?).

The characters are complex and believable (Emrael has a lot of growing up to do), both the women and the men. Too many writers tend to rely on throwaway characters, but even those who make a brief appearance in the book seem well crafted, almost pulling the reader into an emotional investment.

While some might find themselves irritated by Emrael’s immaturity, they should realize the logic and sincerity behind it. People don’t grow up overnight, it takes time and hard experience to achieve maturity, and Drakeford puts Emrael through his paces logically and with care, which makes him that much more believable.

This is old-school epic fantasy at its best: fun, engaging, and exciting, a welcome addition to readers whose shelves are filled with the like of Eddings, Tepper, and Stackpole. A highly recommended read.