The Last Keeper by J.V. Hilliard
When reviewing a book like The Last Keeper by J.V. Hilliard, I am sorry Amazon and Goodreads offer only five stars. This fantasy novel is one of those books that takes you by the hand, winks, and leads you into a spellbinding adventure, making you forget everyday life.
J.V. Hilliard is one of those authors, rare today, who crafts his world with meticulous care and lush imagination. His style is well-developed, the narrative flow and pacing well-crafted. Hilliard neglected nothing and, thus, created a fantastic setting, so vivid that it isn’t only cinematic but made me feel I was riding to Thronehelm, sailing around the Horn of Seabrooke on the way to Castleshire, and sipping the Queen’s Nectar—the best wine in Warminster. Yes, the toponyms’ names are really cool. I must mention Dragon’s Breath Mountains, Ravenwood, barony Queen’s Chapel, Cathedral of the Watchful Eye… since little things like that add to the magical atmosphere, something many modern authors neglect. But not Hilliard, whose writing is so absorbing that you may catch yourself twitching while reading the epic battle scenes. All the fights are so detailed and bloody and convincing, it surprised me I wasn’t short of breath and splashed in blood after each one, but the sea battle was my favorite. That one was terrifying and full of surprises since admiral Valerick LaBrecque, the Seawolf of the Firth of Fury, had to face not only ordinary enemies but a powerful war wizard too.
But let’s go step by step and first meet the main characters:
Daemus Alaric, a young Keeper, blessed—or cursed?—with the mastery of Sight, has frightening visions that foretell a great calamity. It turns out those visions are prophetic, and he has a role in preventing disaster. The boy must grow up fast, experience loss and disappointment, and find courage in his heart. On his path to his purpose, he will have to face terrifying circumstances and stay strong, although such threats would make seasoned warriors tremble.
Addilyn Elspeth is a Vermilion elf and the Vermilion ambassador’s daughter. A herd of tetrines, lovely black unicorns, warns her that catastrophe is nearing. Just like Daemus, the fragile elf girl has a role to play, no matter how much pain and the danger it will bring her. She will have to harden and master her spell-wielding and fighting skills while coming to terms with personal woes.
Sir Ritter Valkeneer is part-human, part Raven elf. He is a superb archer and holder of the ghostwood bow—the Silencer. He also has a unique bond with his war falcon, Storm, and can see through the bird’s eyes. The kind-hearted young ranger and his Longmarchers will accompany a royal campaign against a band of bandits, not dreaming that a much bigger threat is looming over the entire realm.
So, Daemus, Addilyn, and Ritter have dangerous, meaningful tasks which will challenge them to their limits. The young protagonists will have to make some hard decisions and learn the true meaning of courage, loyalty, sacrifice, and love. They will encounter colorful side characters: princes, champions, jesters, warriors, outcasts, pirates… of all races. However, they will never know who is on their side and who is against them. Well, that is as much as I can say without spoilers.
Now, let’s look at the bad guys:
Graytorris the Mad, the Fallen Keeper, is a frightening enemy. His powers are so mighty that his bleeding eyes don’t even slow him down. Driven by hubris and revenge, Graytorris is the true nightmarish opponent since he doesn’t fear death, which would relieve him of his cursed existence. There is one eerie scene when he writes with the blood from his bleeding eyes while plotting how to kill Daemus.
As if such an opponent isn’t enough, Graytorris controls the Antlered Man, an abomination that can outrun and overpower everyone. And Clan Blood Axe, a tribe of cruel trollborns, gave me the chills because of their relentless stamina and resolution, among other things. Hunting prey on their hoursehounds, they reminded me of nightmares in which the enemy strolls leisurely but always catches up with you no matter how fast you run. A bone elf called the Black Rose, and his imp, Skullam, are unstoppable evil beings who make villains like Veldrin Nightcloak and traitors at court seem like a piece of cake.
Each chapter begins with a wise saying or proverb from Hilliard’s magical world, and that is a beautiful touch. Here are a few: “To see the heavens, you must climb the heavens” − Erudian proverb; “The whispers of ancient trees are a cure for a lonely heart.” — Melexis, the Ancient of elves; “The worst of sanctuaries is neither the dark recesses of a cave nor the lonesome hollows of a forest. It’s the desolation of your own mind.” — Anthraxus of the Monastery of Blight; “Servant leadership is the reason the common people believe in the goodness of rulership.” — The Worshipful Scrivener’s Guild of House Alaric
The good news is The Last Keeper is the first book in The Warminster series. The bad news is that sleepless nights await everyone reading this magical tale full of battles, sorcery, magical weapons, strange animals and races, and common folk with uncommon traits, ready to sacrifice themselves to save someone or to stab their own kin in the back. Hilliard’s story brimming with bravery, love, hate, madness, and spite will absorb the readers so much that closing the last page and facing the real world may seem like a shock.