BOOK ONE: TOWERS OF DAWN
A new star hangs in the sky, unmoving and ominous. A group of knights journey home to Exmortus having been on a secret mission to retrieve an important artefact, but something hinders their journey. The strange star looks like it is following them and as Yount gets closer he vows to discover what it is. The answer brings a winged creature bearing a sword and the curious knight meets his fate.
Left behind while the knights went on their mission with the Abbot, the young Ash is trying to gain his entry to knighthood and, disgruntled at being left behind, his life in the abbey is not easy. He has always been different and his peers do not make his time easy. Ash craves more than his mundane duties. Watching from Exmortus Abbey he sees the star swoop down then return to its unnatural place in the sky. Word reaches the Abbey that only four of the knights will return from the mission and Ash is left wondering whether Yount is among the survivors.
Ash doesn’t sleep well; strange whispers haunt his dreams and, as he longs for knowledge and ability beyond his years, he fears that something is coming. Startled awake from one of his strange dreams he senses danger. Ash runs from explosions and the sound of screaming and finds the prior Zirev, but it is too late. The injured Zirev thrusts a small box and a message into Ash’s hands and begs him to take them to the Empress. Reluctant to be called a coward Ash hesitates but soon realises that he is Exmortus’ only hope against the evil force of the white demon. Along with his only real friend, Simon, he runs, leaving the destruction of Exmortus Abbey in his wake.
Ash swiftly finds himself in danger unable to escape the Abbey grounds fast enough, but strong hands pull at him and he flees to safety in the company of two highly questionable farmers/warriors. The pair are as far from noble as Ash could find and seem untrustworthy thieves and cutthroats to boot. But they are strong, determined and Ash owes them his life. He cannot dwell on the past or on the dreadful white demon. All that matters to him now is getting the box to the Empress and the young warriors can help him do it. Along with his coarse companions and their even coarser language, Ash sets off on his quest.
Exmortus would definitely fall under the darker bracket of fantasy, having elements of gritty realism and moments of graphic violence – not for the faint hearted – but this approach only added to the believable quality of the action in this world of magic and monsters. The gruesome acts didn’t put me off, rather I understood they were a necessary part of the narrative and they somehow validated Ash’s journey as being essential – there are real night terrors in this world and they must be stopped at any cost.
The action moves at a fast pace and for this reason Exmortus is an easy read, with the reader experiencing Ash’s journey with him and getting that sense of danger and urgency that reflects in his mission. The pace does mean that the depth of sub-plots and the intricate details of the world and its magics are perhaps not as developed as they could be, but the sense of growth in Ash’s character does come across well with a notable change in his behaviour and perception from part one to part two.
The ending of the book did leave me a little deflated considering the rest of it flowed so well. Clearly this is the first book in a series and the final chapter has set up events to dramatically continue into book two, but I was disappointed that so many elements of the story were left unresolved. I reached the last page and felt bereft of a definite conclusion; rather I felt that I had already started reading book two, with new plotlines starting up.
Nonetheless this is a well-written story and I expect the sequel will surpass everything that Exmortus has to offer in the continuation of Ash’s journey.