Book Review: The Lords of Davenia series, by Mason Thomas

 

Lord Mouse (Lords of Davenia, Book 1), by Mason Thomas

Scoundrel by nature and master thief by trade, Mouse is the best there is. Sure, his methods may not make him many friends, but he works best alone anyway. And he has never failed a job.

But that could change.

When a stranger with a hefty bag of gold seduces him to take on a task, Mouse knows he’ll regret it. The job? Free Lord Garron, the son of a powerful duke arrested on trumped up charges in a rival duchy. Mouse doesn’t do rescue missions. He’s no altruistic hero, and something about the job reeks. But he cannot turn his back on that much coin-enough to buy a king’s pardon for the murder charge hanging over his head.

Getting Garron out of his tower prison is the easy part. Now, they must escape an army of guardsmen, a walled keep and a city on lockdown, and a ruthless mage using her power to track them. Making matters worse, Mouse is distracted by Garron’s charm and unyielding integrity. Falling for a client can lead to mistakes. Falling for a nobleman can lead to disaster. But Mouse is unprepared for the dangers behind the plot to make Lord Garron disappear.

The Shadow Mark (Lords of Davenia, Book 2), by Mason Thomas

Auraq Greystone, once a military officer with a promising future, exists on the fringe of society. Accused of murder, Auraq is on the run from the ax-until two fugitives crash into his solitary life. One is a young man named Kane. The glowing marks on his arm pulse with an otherworldly power, and they have made him the target of a sinister organization called the Order of the Jackal. When the old man protecting Kane dies in an ambush, Auraq swears an oath to take his place.

But the runes are far more significant than they realize. They are a message from the shadow realm, a dark memory of the past-one holding evidence of a bloody massacre and its savage architect; one that will shake the kingdom to its foundation. Risking arrest and execution, Auraq fights to get Kane to the capital city where the cryptic marking can be unlocked. And with assassins close on their trail, Auraq might never get the chance to show Kane what’s in his heart-or the way their journey together has changed him.

The Shadow Mark is an epic tale of magic, murder, conspiracy, betrayal, and-for the two men tasked with unraveling the mystery-love and redemption.

Ratings:
Lord Mouse – 4.75 out of 5
The Shadow Mark – 4.25 out of 5

One of the big challenges of writing high fantasy is how to approach a genre that is so well-traveled. You can spend a lot of time world-building, and try to create something novel. Alternatively, you can sketch out a world (general social class structure, level of technology, where the characters fit into the world) and let the reader fill in the blanks. Mason Thomas takes the latter approach here, and in my opinion it’s an excellent choice.

The driving force in these books is the characters. Mouse is clever, sarcastic, and morally questionable at times. Garron is a strong-principled man, born to the noble class but not blinded by it (usually). The two make for a fun pairing as they spark off one another initially and slowly grow together. Auraq is smart and wise in the ways of the commoners’ world, and willing to honor an oath at all costs. We get less of a good mental picture of Kane, which is why I favored The Shadow Mark somewhat less. He is a likeable enough character, although driven by forces beyond his control.

The bulk of Lord Mouse is essentially a caper. Mouse setting up the escape, then Mouse and Garron (and some unexpected allies) finding their way out of captivity. The mystery is wrapped up neatly and the ending is quite satisfying, with no cliffhanger. The Shadow Mark is more of a quest as Auraq and Kane fight to find someone to make sense of the glowing marks. Again, the mystery is wrapped up well, though there are a few loose ends left over for later books.

I believe that one of the hallmarks of a good author is the quality of their secondary characters, and the roles that they play in the story. Thomas populates the books with a wide cast of characters, and they are well-defined and interesting to read. You know what their motivations are, or what they might be, or perhaps you think you know, but you’re wrong! This makes the story so much more enjoyable.

Thomas’ writing is a pleasure. The stories are well-plotted and well-paced. Descriptions are lush but not overly drawn out, and the reader is able to easily imagine what this world looks like. A stereotypical fantasy-world map might be useful here, but it’s not really a necessity. For all that these books take place in the same world at approximately the same time, they are stand-alone and could be read in either order, though a few references are made in The Shadow Mark that tie it loosely to Lord Mouse. The “heat level” here is relatively low, and all but nil in The Shadow Mark. I’m just happy to see strong gay main characters in well-written fantasy stories!

I am very much looking forward to book three in this series.
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