Jerry R. Travis,
The Alcamean Sword Scrolls:
Tales of the Dark Continent

(Bladehorse, 2003)

Tales of the Dark Continent, the first book in Jerry R. Travis's The Alcamean Sword Scrolls series, is a surprisingly enjoyable fantasy novel boasting a number of truly engaging characters, a complex entanglement of conspiracies, plenty of gripping fight scenes, fabulous natural beasts, a wonderful mix of humor, drama and romance, and just a hint of magic.

The political and military maneuverings of kings and priests cover several regions of the Dark Continent, but Travis keeps tight control over all of the subplots and never lets the story get away from him. At the heart of it all is a remarkable hero named Asahel, an exiled soldier who established Ravenshold, a city that shines as a beacon to all of the outcasts and slaves of the land, a place of justice and second chances in a world of cruelty and exploitation. Already known for his military prowess, Asahel's fame has only increased as his trading policies and just administration have seen Ravenshold prosper and grow. With his beloved wife and stepdaughter beside him, Asahel is a blessed man.

Then, of course, Asahel's world is brought crashing down around him. An act of betrayal sees Asahel turned over to the forces of Hion-Caem, High Priest of the Diamond, and framed as the murderer of a neighboring king, while those in his caravan party are ambushed -- his wife, Lamae, brutally murdered. Once Asahel manages to escape his captors, he devotes his life to killing his betrayer and reclaiming the great city he founded. It's a long way back to Ravenswood, however, and Asahel soon finds himself a major player in a contest much larger and deadlier than he ever would have dreamed of. Hion-Caem, in his ruthless pursuit of political power, has allied himself with Arch Priest Carn-Delbath of the Peridot, an unthinkable alliance between traditional enemies. Grand schemes -- and armies -- are set in motion, only to be temporarily stymied by Asahel's fortuitous reunion with his long-time friend Rothiest, as the two engineer an ingenious capture of a crucial fortress, thus cutting off an imminent invasion of the realm. The laurels of victory fade quickly, though, as Asahel is soon imprisoned for the murder of the neighboring king. It takes more than a jail cell to keep Asahel, Rothiest and his growing number of warriors down for long, however. A series of military adventures follows, with each step leading Asahel closer to Ravenswood, a city now suffering under the murderous rule of Asahel's betrayer.

As intense as the military aspects of the story are, there is much in the way of human drama going on behind the scenes. The story of Asahel and Lamae makes for quite the love story, and the affection Asahel later begins to feel for a princess who has long adored him puts him in emotional turmoil as love and guilt -- and the fear of losing another loved one -- battle within his heart. There is also Asahel's love and concern for his stepdaughter Landi, left alone in a Ravenswood suddenly dominated by the most evil and vindictive of men. Asahel also has to deal with frightening changes taking place within his own mind and body. Always possessed of certain incredible skills, such as the ability to converse with the fantastic animals of the land, Asahel has to come to terms with a surging sense of personal power as frightening as it is miraculous. Something in the way of an explanation comes when he finally learns the real story of his birth, but many questions and fears remain -- for he is not the only man to feel the stirrings of a magic that was lost when his ancestors journeyed across the void to establish this new world. A mysterious voice calls to him in his dreams, establishing the foundation for the next entry in this promising new series.

Tales of the Dark Continent is a rich fantasy infused with truly compelling human characters living in a vivid and fascinatingly exotic world of beauty, danger and mystery. I daresay most fans of fantasy (or impressive storytelling of any kind) will find themselves completely absorbed by this opening novel in The Alcamean Sword Scrolls series.

by Daniel Jolley
29 October 2005

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