Title: Dark Talisman
Author: Steven M Booth
Publisher: Azimuth Books
Publication Date: October 2013
Series: Guardian Chronicles (#1)
Audio or Book?: Book
Reason for Discovery: Galley
I received this book for free from Wunderkind PR in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
She's been banished from her home without a word of explanation. Assassins are hot on her tail, and she's fleeing without a plan. On the whole, her future looks pretty grim. Then again, it's nearly impossible to catch a dark elf. And even tougher to kill one. Meet Altira. She set out to rob a sultan, and ended up stealing the deadliest gem in the world. Her mistake could cost Altira her life -- or save her race, and possibly the world as she knows it. As Altira struggles to triumph over the vast forces arrayed against her, she acquires (mostly against her will) a rich cast of unexpected allies -- perceptive dwarves, giant Phoenix birds with mysterious powers, and ephemeral creatures made from nothing but air. Together they must find a way to defeat the army of assassins set against her, overcome the wrath of three nations, and forge allegiances with despised enemies, to reveal the truth to a people kept in the darkness for millennia.
Altira's day starts simple enough. She wants to acquire a few gems, so she can buy some fancy weapons and be the envy of all of her friends. Naturally, Altira decides that the best way to get some gems is to steal from the Sultan of Fu. Altira's plan goes well, and she finds herself in the Sultan's vault and has access to all of his gems. While the dark elf grabs a few sparkly gems, she discovers a very pretty bauble. Alitra's decision to take this bauble, places Altira on a very different path than she ever imagined being on. Altira's life is about to take a turn for the interesting.
Dark Talisman is a fun, fantasy adventure tale that reads like a Dungeons & Dragons game for those on the young side of the young adult bracket. Unlike most of the fantasy books that I have been reading recently, Dark Talisman is all about the story. There is an exciting action sequence every couple of pages. This book moves at a fast clip. I must admit that I was surprised when a story line wrapped up within the first half of the book, because I thought this particular story line was to be the main plot. I found myself wanting to continue reading this book even when I felt almost too tired to read, because I wanted to know what would happen next. Just as soon as one plot point wrapped up, Altira would be thrust into a new and exciting situation.
In addition to the adventure, I really enjoyed getting to know Altira, the protagonist. She is a dark elf with a chip on her shoulder and wants to do everything by herself. Altira considers friends people who have not shown you their true colors yet. I really liked grumpy Altira and watching her learn to make friends and trust others even though she was actively trying not to like anyone. I can see the 12+ year old crowd relating to this gruff but caring dark elf. I also enjoyed getting to know the other characters too including Tyke, a dwarf who cares for Altira even when she is trying to ditch him at every turn.
Although I did enjoy this book, I did noticed a few problems. First, there are quite a few tropes in this book and certain situations are a bit too convenient. For example, Altira is a dark elf who doesn't want anybody's help. Very early on in the book, Altira meets Tyke, a dwarf, who helps Altira whether she wants his help or not. Although it is nice to see Altira start to care for this dwarf, it was unclear why he was helping her except because his help was needed to move the plot forward. To be honest, I didn't mind the tropes and multiples moments of convenience, because the book was filled with tropes that I enjoy and this book is geared at the young YA audience. I feel that the young YA readers will enjoy the tropes and not feel that they are so tried and true as much as a 30-something reader feels they are.
Second, the world building was a bit problematic. On one hand, Booth clearly thought long and hard about how this world should be designed. There are lots of different species (e.g., humans, elves, and dwarves), the politics of this world are fairly complicated, and the characters use slightly different sayings and words than what the book's readers use. This is clearly evidence of rich world building. At the same time, I feel that the readers were not given enough information. I am normally not a proponent of info dumping; however, I feel this book could have used a little bit of it. For example, there was never a real explanation regarding how much of Altira's magic is unique to her versus unique to dark elves. Characters kept being surprised by what Altira could do, but I was never sure why they were surprised. I have read a lot of fantasy books over the years, so I felt comfortable going with the flow of the vague world building; however, I could see other readers being totally lost with what was going on, if this was their first fantasy book. I kept feeling like I was reading book two (or later) in a series.
Overall, this was a fun book for the young YA demographic. I must admit that I am looking forward to learning what new adventures await Altira in the next book. I give this book a 3 out of 5.