Gary Alan Wassner,
GemQuest #1: The Twins
(2001; Windstorm Creative, 2005)

One cannot read this first book in the GemQuest series without being reminded of Tolkien's immortal Lord of the Rings, but this epic fantasy quickly succeeds in taking on a vibrant life of its own. Wassner constructs this tale around a significant number of characters, but he describes each of them so intimately that you feel as if you know them (so there's no problem keeping them straight). From the harrowing abode of the Dark Lord to the prosperous human city of Pardatha to the beautiful treetop elfin city of Seramour, Wassner truly transports the reader to every location of his envisioned fantasy land.

In this world of Wassner's creation, a great darkness is spreading over the landscape, an evil so dark and dangerous that even the Lalas, ancient and sentient trees that have served as the guardians of the land for eons, have begun to fade in power and to die. Colton dar Agonthea, the Dark Lord, has begun amassing an army of orcs, trolls, sorcerers and even more frightening creatures, knowing his time has come at last. Ancient prophecies of a terrific struggle between good and evil are now being realized, and Colton sets out with a grim determination to eliminate the only potential threat to his genocidal plans. Legend has foretold that a young prince would appear, a last true heir of the renowned and celebrated Gwendolyn family, and that he alone would possess the power to defeat the evil Colton and thwart his bloodthirsty ambitions. Only the true heir can discern the location of the first Lalas and remove the Gem of Eternity that lies hidden somewhere in its massive trunk. That Gem holds the power to stop the encroaching darkness spreading over the land and thwart Colton's evil plans for good.

That royal child, whom only a handful of people even know about, has now appeared in the city of Pardatha. Knowing nothing of his heritage, the young man must be instructed in the use of his formidable powers -- and so it is that Baladar, ruler of Pardatha, has summoned three accomplished young people to guide and teach him: Cairn of Thermaye, a brilliant scholar; Robyn dar Tamarand, an expert in magic and one of the Chosen (each Lalas tree chose one individual to intimately commune with); and Filaree par D' Avalain, a skilled female warrior. Each of them face their own ordeals just trying to get to Pardatha, but their problems pale in comparison to the predicament Baladar finds himself in when the boy, the world's only true hope for the future, disappears. Colton, believing the boy dwells in Pardatha still, is determined to crush that city and find the enemy he seeks. This all culminates in an action-packed and extended siege outside the walls of Pardatha by Colton and his minions of evil.

I can't say enough about the characterization skills that Wassner displays in his writing. He really brings each character vividly to life, which serves to establish a strong emotional bond between the reader and the story's noble heroes early on. And yet, despite feeling as if I knew these characters personally, Wassner managed to surprise me with a major revelation about one or two of them well into the journey. Wassner also excels in the art of creating worlds, and he makes great use of this skill by transporting the reader to a fantastical setting that manages to combine a sense of the familiar alongside the exotic. The mutual relationship between the denizens of this world and their natural environment is a crucial theme, and Wassner's writing intertwines the two almost effortlessly. And, if you're looking for excitement, there is plenty of that to be found throughout these pages, culminating in the siege and determined defense of Pardatha in the later chapters.

This first novel in the GemQuest series definitely leaves you wanting more, and fortunately you don't have to undergo an agonizing wait for the next installment. In an unusual but welcome publishing move, all three GemQuest novels were released at the same time, which means you can jump right into Book Two and continue the adventure as soon as you finish reading The Twins.

review by
Daniel Jolley

4 August 2007

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