Book Review: Quest of the Demon by M.L. Sawyer

12449303Title: Quest of the Demon
Author: M.L. Sawyer
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Middle Grade
Publisher: Equilibrium Books
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Rating: 4 stars
Review copy provided by the author.

Darci is a popular sixteen-year-old girl who plays basketball and lives in an ordinary country town. But her life is changed forever when she is accidentally transported to the land of Nahaba by a young apprentice wizard called Taslessian.

Within hours of her unexpected arrival, both teens are thrust into a dangerous journey to the cave of Grisham the Great in the hope that he would be able to send her home.

Upon reaching the cave, however, Darci quickly discovers that there is no such thing as accidents, and that their journey is only just beginning.

The Quest of the Demon has begun.

Quest of the Demon is an epic fantasy story focusing on the trials and aventure of Darci, a sixteen-year-old girl who accidently gets transported to another dimension by an apprentice wizard called Taslessian. Apparently otherworlders are quite rare in the land of Nahaba, and due to the enhanced magic used to bring her to this world, every powerful wizard on the entire planet knows of her existence. That includes the good, like Taslessian’s master, but also the bad in the form of an evil warlock called Domati. After killing Taslessian’s master Belderon, the warlock is soon chasing the apprentice wizard and Darci as they try to reach the home of Grisham, the greatest and most powerful dragon currently alive. The first part of the book focuses on Darci and Taslessian’s journey to Grisham’s lair, which is not without danger. Once they reach the mighty dragon’s home, he tells them that he does not possess the magic to transport Darci back to her own world. On the contrary even, there is an important quest the young wizard and the teenage girl have to complete with the aid of a mighty warrior woman called Defyance, a skillful knight called Maledorian and a banished elf called Lief. Because if they do not complete the quest, the world of Nahaba will perish as the demon Demolish will shed hatred and despair through the world’s inhabitants, and lots of innocent people will die. They have to complete the Quest of the Demon, whatever it takes.

Quest of the Demon is the debut novel by M.L. Sawyer, and it’s a nice debut indeed. The characters are very detailed and well-developed, especially the protagonist Darci and her love interest, Taslessian. The setting is rich in detail and surprisingly original, considering the fact that “a magical world in an alternate dimension” has been done a thousand times before. I like it when authors can grasp a cliché concept and turn it around to be rather original anyway, and M.L. Sawyer has successfully managed to that in this book. The writing style is decent, although not all that unique, and I wish the author would have found her own writing voice in the process. Her style is a bit too clean, too scholastic even, to make a lasting impression.

I thought Darci was very amusing and original character. She doesn’t have the typical reaction most sixteen-year-olds would have when they think there’s a burglar in their house. Rather than getting scared and calling the cops, she grabs a baseball bat and goes to find the culprit. Pretty heroic, if you ask me, and hilarious as well as she is transported to the world of Nahaba wearing her pyjamas and holding a baseball bat in her hands. I was cracking up from laughter by then, imagining just how silly it must be to end up in another dimension while still wearing pyjamas. While quite devestated with ending up in an alternate dimension and worrying if she’s ever going to see her parents again, Darci manages to keep her mind clear. Clear enough not to freak out when the warlock Domati shows up at their doorstep, and clear enough not to believe the Monk Man when he’s infading her mind later on in the story. Although she has no particular talents, not for swordfighting nor for magic, and she needs to depend on others to protect her, Darci doesn’t come across as a helpless damsel in distress. She is actually quite brave, and she fights as well as she can, which obviously isn’t very good – then again, it would be very unlikely for a normal teenager to be able to defeat winged creatures attacking them on a boat, or a hideously-looking monster like Trolog. Draci isn’t a hero because she has the talents of a hero. She’s no extraordinary swordfighter, no exceptionally skilled magician, and she’s actually more troublesome than useful. But she’s a hero because she is brave, willing to fight although she knows she doesn’t stand a chance, and because she’s not too stubborn to rely on others for her own safety. That concept of heroism is quite original, and I applaud M.L. Sawyer choosing an ordinary person as the protagonist of their book, and then keeping her ordinary until the very end, without superpowers or exceptional skills.

My second favorite character was Taslessian. Although he starts off doubtful and wary of his own powers, he mans up soon enough and realizes his true potential in the face of danger. I liked him as a character, but I really loved him when he interacted with Darci. They were so much fun together, with Taslessian blushing as Darci stood in front of him in nothing but a tank top – inappropriate clothing for a girl in Nahaba – and getting all jealous over Lief’s attentions for the otherworlder. It was cute and realistic, and thankfully it wasn’t all that rushed for once. Darci and Taslessian really took the time to get to know each other, first as friends, and then to explore their feelings a bit further. I loved the moment when they kissed – getting drunk and then making out, always a bonus – but I found it equally brilliant when later on, Taslessian acted as if nothing happened, or he may not even have remembered. There is no mention of “true love” like there is in so many other young adult novels, and which is just a crazy concept alltogether, there is only mention of their attraction to each other and that’s that. It makes their relationship even more charming, since they’re not delusional about it. I also loved the fact that Lief had feelings for Darci, bringing her in this awkward position in a love triangle. Now that was really a love triangle well done. Both Lief and Taslessian had equal chances at some point, and I was actually feeling equally confused as Darci was as to who to choose, because I liked both of them.

Now, I have to admit that the concept isn’t all that original. Girl gets transported to alternate dimension, girl meets boy and falls for him, girl and boy need to go on a quest with other heroes to save the world. Been there, done that. What is interesting, is the originality M.L. Sawyer manages to put in this otherwise cliché concept. The world of Nahaba is clearly set in medieval times, and it’s inhabited with all the standard species: elves, humans, dragons. But there’s more. We see warlocks and wizards, evil and good dragons, a world where it’s always winter, flying monsters, Fraries who you have to give sweets so they will do your bidding, and wild beasts called Dahnagas. We see original concepts being mixed with cliché themes, and the result is rather nice.

The light-hearted humor is another reason why Quest of the Demon doesn’t feel cliché when you read it. While the lives of thousands of innocents are at stake, our main characters still find time for some humor and jokes, which really bring a fresh breeze to the book. While Darci is standing in her pyjamas, she desperately wishes she had put on a bra – I can imagine that all girls would feel that way if they were transported to another dimension braless – and she constantly wishes she had nicer clothes to put on. When she has a hole in her pants, Taslessian starts blushing like a mad man. When Darci pulls Taslessian up from the ground, she adds too much strength, and they bump into each other, leading to mad blushes from both sides. This cute, light-hearted humor gives an entire vibe of originality to the book, and to be honest it was about time an author gave an answer to the question what one does when being transported to an alternate dimension in their pyjamas. It is anything but comfortable, I presume. Now I know the answer: you hope that the local town’s magician can provide you with a bra. Thanks, Belderon, for saving damsels in distress and in desperate need of some support. 😉

I must add that I also loved the secondary characters. They each had their own, distinct personality and an interesting history to fit with it. Although we may not know much about the warrior woman Defyance, I sure grasped the concept that she’s not to be messed with. And Maledorian had trouble coming to terms with the fact his father did not love him the way he loved his older brother, although he went to a hell of a lot of trouble to make the old man like him. And then there’s Lief, the mysterious Elf who got banished from his homeland for an unknown reason. Their differences and the fact that they somehow work well together, is what makes these characters remarkably interesting. I found myself eagerly anticipating their next adventures.

That said, if I had to talk about some negative points while reading Quest of the Demon, there was only one that I could come up with. The writing style is too clean. I can’t explain it very well, but it all sounds a bit too scholastic, a bit too edited to sound real and honest, like either the writer hasn’t found her own authentic writing voice yet, or like it’s been edited to the point where it reads more like a school book than an actual novel. Considering that this is my only complaint about the book, it’s not that much of a big deal, but I did find it peculiar.

Quest of the Demon is a fast-paced, action-packed epic fantasy novel with a well-developed plotline and original characters. Darci makes a hilarious protagonist, who is occasionally more worried about the clothes she does or does not wear than about the life-threatening situations at hand, which isn’t all too peculiar considering she’s a sixteen-year-old in the presence of the local apprentice wizard cutie. The romance between Darci and Taslessian is believable and sweet. I really enjoyed reading this book, and I would recommend it to everyone who enjoys epic fantasy and who would like a fresh breeze in the genre. I’m looking forward to the next adventures of our heroes in Tallen: Quest of the Demon – Aftermath One.

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