With Apologies for my Nerdiness
5 of 5 stars
If lock down has you jonesing for a good D&D session, then picking up “The Crystalline Chronicles” by Blake R. Wolfe might just be what the doctor ordered. I haven’t been able to sort out playing since my daughter was born almost four years ago, and reading through the first installment of Dusk’s tale “The Crystal Eye” had me itching to dig out my dice and roll up a new character.
The story begins with Dusk, a probably twenty-something slave getting ready to be sold. In his world, slaves can only stay with one owner for ten years to avoid uprisings and conflicts. On his last day, our main character makes a startling discovery that serves as the catalyst for a wild adventure, the likes of which he could never have imagined. Along the way, despite his reservations, he makes friends with several companions who vow to help him escape slavery forever, as well as those who seek to enslave him again or worse.
Wolfe excels at writing wonderful characters. I always fall for the sweet sidekick, who is definitely hiding something big. Lex is now tattooed on my heart alongside Sam Gamgee, Ron Weasley, and Ronan Lynch (an odd case because he then got his own books). But, I often notice and wax poetic about the nice old lady who rescues the hero, or bartender who helps when he shouldn’t, or any characters who seem just a little too good to be true. And let’s be honest, in the real world, they often are. But even in our corner of the world, sweet, innocent, wonderful souls like Dusk often engender such unabashed selflessness. And, I think this is where Wolfe really shines because often I don’t love main characters, especially this early in a long series. He hasn’t had time to grow, but the wonderful supporting characters have loved and supported him so well that I have had no choice but to join them.
Dusk clearly has much growing to do. He doesn’t know how to be a human, because no one has ever allowed him to be one. Like a premature babe, ripped from the womb too early, he isn’t fully formed. Stunted by years of being treated as subhuman, he doesn’t know how to talk to people, how to act, how to do basically anything. Despite this, he doesn’t have a selfish bone in his body. He is gracious, kind, and always wants to help, even if it might put him in danger. Though, he will kill anyone standing in his path to freedom. So, there’s that. Despite their trials and tribulations, I’m kinda shipping Lex and Dusk. I’m not sure if that’s going to happen, but wouldn’t be the first time I shipped something that didn’t happen.
Setting, Plot, and Writing
Wolfe’s world is as beautifully developed as any by the best Dungeon Masters, and it feels as though he’s taking the reader on a stroll through an epic campaign. When we met the first member of Dusk’s party, and then walked into a tavern, I immediately felt like we were in that opening sequence of a good game where you pick up the rest of your party. The world is a rich with magic, chimeras, and unfortunately, like our own world, slavery.
The series is vibrantly and beautifully cast in a gorgeously scenic landscape. Wolfe’s descriptions were so good that I could clearly picture the land, the people, and everything we encountered. Pacing was a little slow in the beginning, but Dusk’s journey soon gripped me. If you’re a stickler, be warned, the book could have stood a bit more editing. I came across a few typos and grammar issues, but not enough to ruin it for me.
Wolfe is clearly using his story, like many fantasy stories, as an outlet for social commentary. He makes his point without hitting you over the head with it. Owning other people isn’t okay. No matter what, you’re not a good person if you own people. At the same time, it’s hard not to fall a little in love with people who are kind – even when they have owned slaves. This trap is one we understand all too well, as it remains at the forefront of our society grappling to resolve our picture of America’s beloved founding fathers as slaveholders.
I also found it interesting to see a world where no one batted an eye at homosexual relationships, but slavery still gripped the society. But, considering we now know that historically homosexuality wasn’t always the hang-up it has been in modern history, perhaps this is a more accurate representation of something like Greek or Roman society. As a bit of romance fanatic, no matter how I might try to deny that fact about myself, I honestly can’t wait to see if Lex and Dusk end up together.
Overall, the story brought me on a wonderful journey through a fantastical land, and if you enjoy epic fantasies and wonderful character development, I think you’ll enjoy it. Having read one of Wolfe’s first books, I looked forward to reading more of his writing, especially seeing more of his characters. His character development continues to be my favorite aspect of his writing.
Content Warning: Slavery, graphic violence, attempted sexual assault
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