Today is my stop on the blog tour for ‘Paladin Unbound’ by Jeffrey Speight organised by Storytellers on Tour.
I hope that you will check out the book and the author, and enjoy the rest of the tour with the schedule in the banner below or (HERE).
*Disclaimer: ‘I was given a copy this book in exchange for an honest review, all views are my own.’*
The last of a dying breed, a holy warrior must rise up against a growing darkness in Evelium.
The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process.
As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help.
Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything?
As soon as I saw the cover and read the summary for Paladin Unbound I knew I wanted to read it. I’m always a fan of books that portray Orcs and Half-Orcs in a different light, and Umhra is a wonderful example of what Half-Orcs can be. Then there was the D&D aspect – which as anyone who knows me or the blog will know is something that dominates a large part of my life, and I don’t think Paladins get quite as much attention as some of the other classes so that was something else that was great to see here. Then there is that cover – it’s fantastic and even if I hadn’t been obsessed with D&D that would have pulled me in. Another bonus point is that there is a map of Evelium at the beginning
Paladin Unbound is a love letter to Dungeons & Dragons. It has all the chaos of an adventuring party let lose – often without all the information that could have made a difference, and a world that has been lovingly crafted to house that chaos. The worldbuilding is great, and I liked how between the prologue and the use of snippets from historical texts at the beginning of each chapter we’re given a sense of a world that not only has breadth but depth, and it was done in a way that framed the world without straying into overloading us with information. I am certainly a huge fan of that kind of approach, and I always like it when books use that moment at the start of the chapter to demonstrate something else about the world or the story. Evelium is a wonderful setting, and very much has the feel of a classic fantasy world but with a dark underside that is fighting to break the surface, and there was a wonderful blend of classic features – I may have grinned when the Dire Wolves appeared – and some twists on those features to set this book apart.
The magic is varied in this book, from the divine magic of the Clerics and Paladins to the more nature-based magic of the Ranger and Druid, to the creatures that inhabit the world, and the role of the Gods past and present, and it all plays into the story and world in different ways. Speight takes quite a soft approach to the magic, although there is a system through the suffusion of magical items of specific elements, such as gold or platinum, and I found that this approach worked well here because it allowed the story to flow without getting bogged down in too many details about how each piece of magic worked. Sometimes magic just needs to be magical, and it works especially well here because it feeds into the action-packed, fast-paced nature of this story.
Outside of the quest/adventure element, Paladin Unbound does explore prejudice and stereotypes, especially around Umhra and his original group, and while this is a familiar feature particularly around Orcs/Half-Orcs, what I liked about Speight’s approach was that he showed that there was a spectrum of how they were viewed. Through encounters with different parts of society, we can see there is a variety of reactions and how for some people, it is the person and the deeds that define them, but we also get to see the scope of experience of the mercenary band through flashbacks and their reactions to getting a mission that they had expected to be denied because of who they were, which in turn raised questions about why they had been selected. It added another element to the world and the worldbuilding, but it was also an integral part of Umhra’s story – both before the start of Paladin Unbound, but throughout, and it was great to see how it was woven through his reactions and expectations, and also his choices and his reasons for embracing his destiny.
The characters are the heart and soul of this book. Umhra was an unexpected character in many ways, and his optimism despite everything was incredibly endearing. I also very much enjoyed the fact that a large part of his motivation was personal. I’m all for prophecies and being chosen by the gods, and having a great destiny, but there was something wonderfully grounding about the fact that he was following that path for himself, and trying to find out who he was, rather than what the world was determined to see him as. I wish that we’d had longer to spend with the other members of his mercenary group because it would have been interesting to see what Speight would have done with an all Orc cast. That said, I loved the members of the Barrow’s Pact. I may have a soft spot for Gromley, and I loved Naivara from the moment we met her. They made for such a good party, working to each other’s strengths and with any weaknesses and struggles, and you could feel the bonds between them from the moment we met them, and how that expanded to include Umhra and the other newer members.
Paladin Unbound was a fun read, combining the feeling of real stakes, with the nostalgia of classical quest fantasy and the chaos of a D&D game. I loved seeing a Half-Orc character take the limelight and the feeling of being drawn into a world that was created with clear love and passion. Certainly a book for anyone with even so much as a passing interest in Dungeons and Dragons, but this is an approachable story that will appeal to fantasy fans of all ages.
About the Author:
Jeffrey Speight’s love of fantasy goes back to an early childhood viewing of the cartoon version of The Hobbit, when he first met an unsuspecting halfling that would change Middle Earth forever. Finding his own adventuring party in middle school, Jeff became an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and found a passion for worldbuilding and character creation. While he went on to a successful career as an investor, stories grew in his mind until he could no longer keep them inside. So began his passion for writing. Today, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, three boys (his current adventuring party), three dogs, and a bearded dragon. He has a firmly held belief that elves are cool, but half-orcs are cooler. While he once preferred rangers, he nearly always plays a paladin at the gaming table.
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