Book Reviews, Fantasy

Review: Paladin Unbound by Jeffrey Speight

The last of a dying breed, a holy warrior must rise up against a growing darkness in Evelium.

The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process. As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing people, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help. Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything?

Thank you to the author, Jeffrey Speight, for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Paladin Unbound had been on my radar since its publication date, when a lot of fellow bloggers started talking about it, and so when Jeff reached out to ask if I’d be interested in reading and reviewing his book, I was definitely keen! And once I started it, I was intrigued right from the prologue, which starts many many years before the main story, when one of the gods is facing off against his siblings, who are trying to stop him from dominating the world of man. I found it very interesting that it was from the point of view of this demon-god, Naur, especially since he is the first character we meet in this world, and it made me sympathise a little more than I probably should with him. But, in classic fantasy style, Naur is banished to the underworld by his regal sister, who then ascends to heaven and gives up all control over humanity. In a cool twist, her two other godly brothers decide to stay in the world and take on the form of a great stag and a dragon, which I loved! But what none of them know is that Naur has prepared for this eventuality, and his eternal banishment may not last as long as expected…

Fast forward a few centuries to the City of Anaris, where the half-orc Umhra is hoping to secure work for himself and his mercenary crew, the Bloodbound. In Umhra’s first few chapters we see the struggle he goes through because of his race, with most others looking down on him and his men, and so when the Bloodbound are chosen by the Lord of the city to take the job he advertised, it’s a great victory. And the job? Investigate why people are disappearing along a certain stretch of road outside the city, and if possible find the party responsible and put a stop to it. What seems relatively straightforward is slowly revealed to be part of something much greater, and Umhra discovers a sinister cult trying to resurrect the demon-god Naur through blood sacrifice. Sadly, this information comes at the cost of his loyal crew, so Umhra finds himself with a group of new companions trying to put an end to the threat posed by the cult.

Though it was quite a shock to lose so many characters so early on, it does lead to one of my favourite tropes: the montage of assembling a team! Laudin, a ranger Umhra met on the road, summons his own band, the Barrow’s Pact, and so the adventure begins. There is a great deal of travel involved, as any good quest requires, and some fun character dynamics along the way. I think the biggest strength of this book, and Speight’s writing, is the world building. It’s absolutely incredible, and I could visualise all of the different landscapes with great clarity; it’s very obvious that the author knows his world intimately, and I really enjoyed getting that glimpse into it from his skilful prose. The mythology helps to give it depth, especially with the prologue and the extracts from in-text books that open each chapter that give hints to these stories. The one thing I would have liked more exposition on is the politics and history of the world, because the way the characters discuss it gave me a general idea, but was also done in a way that made me feel I’d missed something.

The characters, too, felt somewhat two-dimensional, and some of the dialogue could have been a bit more polished, but overall I really enjoyed each member of the crew, and found Umhra to be a lovable character, especially when his secret gets revealed and he gains extra depth. And the lasting feeling I’ve had since finishing this book has been: that was a fun read! I’d be interested to see more of the world, and see the characters developed further, as I’m sure Speight’s skill will improve with each new project. Anyone with a love of DnD, or just adventure stories, should consider picking up Paladin Unbound. It has a great cast of characters, an evil vampire, a talking legendary sword, a shapeshifting druid, among other cool things. It’s not too long, either, so if you’re intimidated by big books this is a great one for you, and will leave you wanting more!

Book Info

Published: 1st July 2021 by Literary Wanderlust
Genre: fantasy
Pages: 334
Series: Archives of Evelium
Narration style: third person, multiple points of view
Format read: ebook
Content Warnings: violence, blood

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