It’s always nice to read a fantasy book that focuses on its story, character, and history rather than becoming the next step in a trend. Even better when a book leaves you legitimately eager for the next installment. You may never have heard of Savannah J. Goins, but if you have an inkling for high-flying adventure, dragons, magic, and betrayal, then you will have no problem checking out her debut novel, The Gwythienian.
The first book in a trilogy, The Gwythienian follows teenager Enzi Montgomery, who, like most YA fantasy protagonists, leads an ordinary life: school, mean girls, body issues, and yearning for a little something more. The only extraordinary thing about her is a special purple stone that her father found while on duty overseas. It is a magic stone, one that can turn Enzi invisible if she concentrates hard enough. This stone leads Enzi into all kinds of marvelous adventures in a magical land called Odan Terridor, where she befriends a dragon-like creature—a Gwythienian—named Gaedyen. The two begin a harrowing and dangerous journey to restore peace and order to Odan Terridor and its neighboring realms.
So…it sounds like your typical fantasy story of adventure and magic and dragons. And, yes, in a way, it is. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable, far from it. Enzi is a likable protagonist who, despite the hurdles she has crossed, is strong, resourceful, and caring. I also appreciate that she feels legitimately ordinary. That is, she is not a Mary-Sue bombshell in an ordinary guise—she is chubby, she gets pimples. No one ever tells her that she is beautiful despite her physical shortcomings. Her badassery comes from within, and she’s one of the more relatable YA protagonists I’ve read in a while.
On the other end is Gaedyen, Enzi’s Gwythienian companion. He, as a stoic and gentle fantasy character, is obligated to come with emotional baggage that Enzi must uncover over their journey. But his character is a little trickier to figure out since he also provides much of the exposition. And because this is the first book in a trilogy, all important information must be given here. That said, I liked Gaedyen enough to care about him, though I think his shortcomings are more because of the writing style, and his burden as Enzi’s guide.
On the whole, the writing—especially for a first-time novelist—is pretty good. But sometimes, scenes go on for a little longer than necessary. Enzi and Gaedyen spend almost a whole chapter trying to figure out how far apart in age they are, which is a cute way to get to know the other, but not something that warrants such length—unless it pertains to the story in a big, big way. We spend a huge chunk of the book with just Enzi and Gaedyen, and that’s not a big deal because they’re likable protagonists that do form a legitimate bond. But I think there were better ways for them to spend their conversations. And there is a lot of information thrown your way here. But Goins compensates for that by providing a glossary at the back of the book for any info you might have forgotten by the end.
The world building is a little wonky too. This is clearly a magical realm, and yet there are gas stations with tampons and cargo pants and American currency. I might have missed some transportation detail, but to have scenes like that within a mythic realm were kind of jarring and unfitting.
There is also a subplot involving Enzi and someone from her past named Caleb. The trouble is, everything between the two is implied, and not clearly explained. This is probably a thread that will get better explanation in later books, but his name is included in the book jacket summary—implying that he will have a bigger part in the overall story. I like that we have a continuing thread, but I thought such a seed would have had a bit bigger development in this installment.
For all the shortcomings, this book is not bad at all. It satisfies any craving for fantasy and dragons and adventure you might have, and I’ll be sure to look out for the next book to find out what the heck Caleb is all about, among other things.