Battlemage by Stephen Aryan

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Battlemage by Stephen Aryan

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Well written epic fantasy superbly read with a plethora of accents from narrator and actor Matt Addis. You get the feeling that audiobooks were made for people with Matt's talent and this certainly gives him plenty of gore-filled excitement to get his teeth into.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 512/15 hours 53 minutes Date: September 2015
Publisher: Hachette Audio UK
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0356504803

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Vargus has milked the legend of the Gath, an avenging man of violence for hire, for as long as possible. Being the Gath has had its benefits but time to move on. As it happens a war is brewing in Seveldrom so Vargus is going to fight on the side of right against the evil that is King Taikon. For Balfruss Seveldrom is home so he's honoured to be one of the six Battlemages King Mattias has selected to be the backbone of his defence now that Taikon has Zecorria. As fate unfolds the future, Mattias' daughter Talandra will also play her part as the King's spymaster. Vargus can kill an armed gang singlehanded. Balfruss can summon fire, command storms and unmake stone. Talandra? She just hopes she can help save her country but as yet she doesn't realise quite how much it will cost her.

British writer Stephen Aryan has been brought up on fantasy and comic books. In fact his name will be familiar to many comic book fans for his blog and pod cast. Now he's branching out into his other literary love and this, his debut novel and debut in The Age of Darkness trilogy, is the result.

Epic fantasy normally comes with an epic cast which can cause problems in the case of some audio downloads – no cast list to refer to. However in this case it's not a problem at all since Stephen's writing and narrator Matt Addis' acting will ensure everyone in the book who sticks around will also stick in our minds and imaginations.

Acting? Indeed, Matt doesn't include sound effects (which is good news for the squeamish for reasons we'll return to later) but he has a range of voices and accents that are just as character forming as Stephen's words. For instance take Vargus, the wonderfully rough diamond with a heart and a brother to be ashamed of. I have always maintained that certain epic fantasy heroes are intrinsically Yorkshiremen. This audio book for Battlemage proves my theory as Vargus has a Yorkshire accent. (The fact it's also Stephen's adopted home county's accent is probably mere coincidence!)

In the case of spy and torturer with odd methods, Gunder, his accent (not Yorkshire) makes him a lot more sinister than mere writing would, especially during that scene where he goes to work on a priest.

We'll all recognise the stock epic fantasy casting to some extent but in my opinion that doesn't matter as it's what the author does with them that matters. Talandra may be the feisty female (along with battlemage Eloise) but she still has some surprises to exact and suffer. Vargus has a brother who is very much the proverbial skeleton in his wardrobe… but what a skeleton! Similarly, King Taikon the nutty, self-proclaimed emperor, may seem to be doing mad-Romanesque but he's turned it up to a delicious 11. Watch out for that bath scene!

Ooh talking of the bath scene and others of that ilk, this is definitely not a book for those of a delicate stomach. In fact the audio version makes the imaginatively splattered gore harder to skip than a book would. Therefore please consider yourself warned/delighted (delete as applicable).

Another interesting factor is that Stephen builds a fantasy world without the usual get out of gaol free cards. The Battlemages may be able to form a union of power in order to fight but not without personal consequences. People die in a violently random way (as they would in battle) while their comrades react rather than conveniently forget and forge on. Multiple religions thrive making some interesting beliefs and motives while the horned-headed folk and the lizard people hint that this may not be our world and yet the psychology resonates on both sides of the fiction/reality divide.

The other cool thing is that Stephen provides twists and shocks right up to the end. We may be able to guess what happens to Talandra after…, but who'd have guessed that about Balfruss? And why, when that thing happened did Gunder not…? As for Vargus, I'm betting there's still stuff we don't know beyond that last page. All I can say is that as Blood Mage (Book 2) isn't due out till April 2016, it's going to be a long anticipatory winter!

Thank you so much Hachette Audio UK for providing us with a copy for review. We also have a review of Mageborn (Age of Dread) by Stephen Aryan.

Further Listening/Reading: If you'd like to hear more of Matt's narration, we heartily recommend Rape of the Fair Country by Alexander Cordell

Booklists.jpg Battlemage by Stephen Aryan is in the Top Ten Fantasy Books of 2015.

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