Before we begin, I should announce two very important facts: Jamie Thomas’ Asperfell has a sequel, The Forest Kingdom (2021), and that sequel is already out and available for all the impatient binge readers out there.
Now, may we carry on with the review?
Asperfell opens with the assassination of a king and the subsequent punishment of his assassin, as seen through the eyes of our narrator, Briony Tenebrae. What follows is a tightly knit political drama as the royal court of Tiralaen devolves into a viper’s nest of corruption and suspicion, driven there by the unbalanced young king who sits on its throne and his fear of Mages. This fear, in turn, spawns from the old king’s death at the hands of one of Tiralaen’s most promising young Mages, the former heir apparent and new king’s older brother, Prince Elyan. Briony serves as the reader’s eyes and ears to this devolution and through her lens we feel every fresh cruelty of this growing police state.
The titular Asperfell, in turn, is a parallel world to the one Briony and all of Tiralaen inhabit. It is the place where Mages who have broken the kingdom’s laws, or simply existed outside the king’s control, are banished to. In Asperfell, exiled Prince Elyan now rules over the worst and most powerful Mages of Tiralaen, and it is to Asperfell that Briony must venture if she wants to save her home.
Does that sound complicated?
Good, it is.
If you are looking for a tidy fantasy world full of straight forward character relationships, motivations, and resolutions, look elsewhere. Asperfell and Tiralaen are not realms for the faint of heart. Here, the usual trappings of fantasy worlds, glittering castles and courtly manners, only mask the growing rot at the heart of both realms; rot beautifully encapsulated in a single, pivotal scene described by Briony in hindsight as just one instance to epitomize the king and his court’s descent into barbarism.
For those of you who have read the book, you know exactly what scene I’m talking about. For those of you who haven’t, I shouldn’t spoil the surprise.
With a deft hand, Thomas weaves her narrative through court intrigue, a child’s wonder, fell magic, and a young woman’s growing understanding of her own, perilous position. Crackling with energy and full of complex, stunningly rendered characters, Asperfell is a knockout of a first novel and a compelling opener for what promises to be a powerful trilogy.