All Hyam wants is to be a farmer and live a quiet life in his out-of-the-way village of the Realm. But his mother's dying wish is that he returns to the Long Hall, the residence of the mages, where he spend five years as an apprentice under their strict rule. Five years he'd rather forget as the mages bullied and mistrusted him for his extraordinary ability to learn the ancient Milantian language. Now, back at the Long Hall as an adult, Hyam will learn secrets about his origins that will change his life forever and send him on a journey to become a hero.
I really like reading fantasy, but I'm always a bit daunted by the big 10-or-more-book series that seem to populate the secular fantasy shelves. So I usually keep to reading the shorter series or single books of Christian fantasy authors and often enjoy the allegorical meaning found in these stories. So I came across this book on NetGalley and was immediately interested. And I didn't even know that the author was actually a pseudonym for the well-known T. Davis Bunn, author of historical novels and legal thrillers!
This book definitely has interesting world building. It's clearly high fantasy with elves and mages, but there are also many new and creative elements to this world. There are multiple species/tribes with their own characteristics and abilities. The landscapes are very well described, from the rural Three Valleys were Hyam grew up to the scorching desert through which he must travel to the rugged and strong city of Falmouth Port. I also like the role Hyams dog Dama and his horse Matu play, they are really important in fulfulling his mission and I definitely approve of the way women warriors were written in this novel.
What I liked less was the lack of clarity which crept into the world building and the history of this world. Fantasy authors, especially those writing series of books, must explain enough of the world they have created and the things which happened before the story starts to give the reader the ability to understand, but must also not give away too much, to keep the reader wanting to read on and find out. I definitely felt Emissary leaned too much to the 'vague and mysterious' side. I had so many questions which were not half answered by the end of this first book and which really needed answers for me to understand what was going on: what was the war between the Milantians and the other tribes exactly about? What exactly are the abilities of the Ashanta? How is the Kingdom of Men ruled and why was the Oberon king deposed? Now and then I would get a glimpse into the rich background Locke had thought out for this story, but I felt it was not enough.
Some people might find the characters in this story to be a bit too 'cookie-cutter-typical' fantasy character. There's the hero who comes from humble beginnings, the beautiful young lady with the special skills and the tragic backstory and the gruff older men who becomes a mentor of sorts to the hero. I noted this as well, but it didn't bother me too much. There were enough creative elements in the storytelling and this is the fantasy debut of this author.
The magic in this novel left me wondering. Emissary is marketed as Christian fantasy, but the magic is very much pagan inspired in my opinion. Hyam has the ability to harness the 'powers of the earth', and the way this is described seems to borrow a lot from the pagan belief in ley lines. I'm not saying this is wrong or dangerous persé, but I found it a curious choice nevertheless. In addition, I found relatively little Christian allegory in this novel, apart from the 'good vs evil' fight, but then, this is a hallmark of all fantasy I believe. Compared to other Christan fantasy I've read, such as the wonderful Staff and the Sword series by Patrick Carr, I really felt something was lacking here. Even so, I'm quite curious how the story continues in the next novel in this series Merchant of Alyss which will be out in January 2016 and I would definitely read it if I get the chance.
All in all, Emissary does not end in the top range of Christian fantasy for me, but it's still a worthy debut for those interested in this genre.
I received an ebook version of this novel from NetGalley and the publisher Revell in exchange for an honest review.