I received a copy of the audiobook from Tantor Media in exchange for an honest review.
An enjoyable classic fantasy romp with some modern touches, Kingshold is a commendable debut by D.P. Woolliscroft.
This first book of The Wildfire Cycle is heavy on politics as its major plotline is centred around the election of a new Lord Protector to the Kingdom of Edland. With the current King dead and after many generations of useless monarchs, the ancient wizard, Jyuth, who founded the kingdom refused to take any further responsibility in choosing the next one. Instead, an election was proposed and the story ensued with political scheming and assassinations (which are perfectly legal if performed under a contract).
There were some references to a neighbouring kingdom which may be setting its eyes on conquering Edland, but it remained in the sidelines throughout the course of this book. Politics is a necessary evil whether in real life or in books, but never one of my favourite topics. This is the primary reason that I couldn’t rate this book higher, even though the book is quite fun and has a good cast of characters. The worldbuilding is pretty contained within Kingshold at this point. There is the familiar but still interesting magic which involves shapeshifting, use of life energy (or mana) and demon stones. We also have the usual fare of dwarves being expert smiths and living underground, pirates and a medieval city which has very marked social division. What the book lacked in breadth, it made up in depth with the vivid setting of the city of Kingshold.
The characterisation is easily the best part of the story, with some great female representation. It appears that Woolliscroft was not averse to utilising character tropes and he managed to make it work. I especially have a soft spot for the ‘band of brothers’ trope and in this, we have Motega, Trypp and Florian making up a trio of adventurers, or to be more exact, talents for hire. Then there is the bard, Mareth, who has a special ability to influence the hearts and thoughts of others through song. The main female characters are well-written in the form of Neenahwi, the adopted daughter and apprentice to Jyuth, and Alana, an intelligent castle maid who finds herself drawn into the political game between the machinations of the nobles and the uprising of the common people. We do have quite a large cast of characters; there are more which I’ve not mentioned. And I found most of them to be sufficiently well fleshed-out for me to appreciate their motivations and actions, and enjoy the interactions between these characters.
It did take me quite some time to get drawn into the story because of the numerous shifts in character perspectives earlier on in the story. Together with the heavily political slant to the narrative, there were quite a few moments where I got distracted while listening to the audiobook. The female narrator was an interesting choice for this book as the male POVs seemed more dominant, but it appeared to work. The narrator was brilliant with dialogues, incorporating just the right nuances and inflections into the voices of the various characters. Her accents also differentiated the nobility from the commoners, as well as the foreigners. I also loved the clarity of her articulation and how she handled the humour with a deadpan approach.
Coupled with the engaging writing style of the author, he narrated story kept me entertained with its light humour, as well as diverse and colourful characters. Admittedly, the political intrigue in this book could sometimes be quite fun too. I couldn’t really tell where the series will head from here but Kingshold is a promising start.