On the Kindle, it’s hard to judge a book by its cover. Sometimes, though, when an author is particularly attentive to detail, you can judge a book by its epigraph. Julie Ann Dawson is one of those authors, and her novel The Doom Guardian is a book packed with such detail that a re-read may be in order. But first things first–turn to the first page after the copyright and you’ll find this:
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living, dead, or undead is coincidental, and, truthfully, quite odd.
Now I don’t mention this because it’s central to the plot–if you remember that blurb I posted a really long time ago promising to get this review up a really long time ago (right…sorry about that), you’ll know that this first book in the Chronicles of Cambrea series is populated by a whole host of humans, vampires, human-vampire hybrids called dhampirs, dwarves, elves, necromancers, spell-casters, capricious deities and the calculating priests who serve them. What the little disclaimer does do is hint at the author’s sense of humor and exception attention to detail–two things that can never hurt in speculative fiction.
After that eerie little message to the reader, Dawson jumps right into the story: describing in gory detail a hideous birth scene in which our heroine Nadia dreams of a woman “tied down to the massive stone altar, screaming the scream of a woman about to give birth to some hell spawn from the deepest pits of the lower planes.” On first read, I thought that was some sort of really elaborate simile, but I guess I didn’t read the blurb closely enough myself, because our author means it literally.
Dawson doesn’t mess around: her description is rich and, at times, gruesomely vivid, but with a plotline as twisted (and I mean that in every way) as The Doom Guardian‘s, there’s no room for extended metaphors. Step aside, English majors–we have a real storyteller in town.
What particularly interested me about the novel is its aspects of fantastical polytheism–Dawson does an excellent job drawing a society of many religions, where the gods actually answer your prayers (not often in the way you’d like–just ask the dwarf trapped in a stalagmite cage), and priests mediate between necromancers and cults of assassins. When it comes to our heroine Nadia, I get a sort of Constantine and The Lies of Locke Lamora (see Scott Lynch) vibe–some exorcisms, plus some corpses, plus some shadowy cults. And that’s just fine with me.
D&D fans attention! Be not thrown off by the entrance of “chaos diamonds” into the story. In The Doom Guardian, Dawson fills a fully engaging society with an interesting cast of all the fantasy creatures of myth, legend, and nightmare. When it comes to pinning this story down to a genre, science fiction certainly isn’t it (if you want your “magic” founded in quantum mechanics, look elsewhere). The Doom Guardian is closer to fantasy than anything else, with a little horror tucked in for good measure.
Reading Time: One month, for a college student between research conferences.
Availability: $4.99 in the Kindle store is, in my book (err, blog, I guess) still a little steep. I’d suggest sending yourself a sample and seeing how you like the first 500 locations before handing over your crisp green Lincolns.