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Darkmage

The Rhenwars Saga, Book 1
Narrated by: Simon Wright
Series: The Rhenwars Saga, Book 1
Length: 18 hrs and 26 mins
4 out of 5 stars (31 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the IndieReader Discovery Award for Fantasy 

Darien Lauchlin has already lost everything. Now the only thing he has left to lose is his soul. 

When his own brother unseals the Well of Tears, Darien is the last Sentinel left alive to defend his homeland. Now he is faced with an impossible decision: either watch everything he knows shatter - or forsake his oath of peace to become an instrument of pure destruction. Accompanied by Naia, a priestess of Death, Darien embarks on a harrowing journey to save the people of the Rhen. But will he lose his own soul in the process? 

Darkmage is the first novel in the epic fantasy series The Rhenwars Saga. If you like morally gray heroes, addictive action, and mind-boggling plot twists, then you’ll love Spencer’s award-winning series. 

Pick up a copy to begin this epic adventure today! 

“Absolutely fantastic.” (Chris Fischer, Readers' Favorite)

“A masterful story with incredible depth of emotion.” (Melinda Hills, Readers’ Favorite)

©2011 Melinda L. Spencer-Crabbe (P)2018 Melinda L. Spencer-Crabbe

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

This is the very definition of epic Grimdark!

I have the same problems with the narrator here as I did with Darkstorm. He does okay, generally. But his unusual pronunciations are a bit troublesome. 


Now, the first big thing is it took me a while to realize that this book actually takes place about 1,000 years after Darkstorm. 


Some events were a bit confusing until I figured that out. 


And honestly, even now I'm not 100% certain about how things actually ended in the prequel. It seems likely that the "Big Plot" orchestrated by the Dark Mages turned out to be successful, in spite of all Braden and Quin's efforts. Too bad for Quin, I suppose. 


Here we are introduced to a new cast of characters who are battling against a circumstance extremely similar to that which faced the brothers in Darkstorm. 


Unfortunately, these characters don't have nearly the resources or advantages that Quin and Braden did.


Which does have the added benefit of making the story feel far more desperate. A quest standing on the edge of a knife, as it were. 


All the characters are very well written and have their own needs and desires that color their actions, perceptions, and motivations. 


The one down side I have is that I didn't really personally connect with any of them. 


But don't let that discouraged you, it's a problem I have frequently. 


In this book we get something much closer to the "start out weak and build up to greater power" journey that I love to see, in Darian and his progression throughout the novel. 


Herein, you will find a wild array of twists and turns, an interesting mix of attempted nobility and malevolence, brilliantly imagined characters, environments, and set dressings, as well as a fascinating mythology with an impressive array of intriguing ephemera. 


With this one, ML Spencer has proved that she knows how to take a huge plot, tie together dozens of plot elements, and bring it all together into a fantastic, satisfying ending that has left me on the edge of my seat as I jump into the next book. 


I can't wait to see where this is going! 

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Starts with a bang!

Darkmage really got started with such ferocity, action, and quick, elaborate worldbuilding that I was superexcited to see what would happen next. After that, however, the pace slowed quite a bit, and while the story was never boring and had some intriguing characters, it never quite reached that peak again.

The main character, Darien, quickly became a brooding sort whose intentions were never quite clear (I believe this is intentional). I found myself not able to be very sympathetic for him because I didn't get enough of a glimpse of who he was before all of this misery befell him. The romantic interest that developed partway through the book helped with this a little, but I still found myself rooting for other characters more than Darien by the book's end.

Kyel and Traver and even Naia and Craig turned out to be easier to sympathize with. Traver especially got more interesting as the book progressed and he came into his own.

Still intrigued enough to have started the next book to see how it goes and wonder if some points that were touched upon (such as the people who aided Traver) will be developed more as the series continues.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • MelHay
  • Adamsburg, PA
  • 03-13-19

Things aren't easy, but how things are lived

*I was given this free review copy of this audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

I'm taken with Simon's narration. His accent and feeling in his voice fits the characters and world created here. He's a perfect match for the story. The narration is clean and clear throughout the book. Simon feels as though he's the story, which lets me focus on what's happening with ease. A wonderful match in voice for the story.

M.L. Spencer catches my attention with the story she's crafted, and her word choices. Wow. She's accomplished a huge thing in fantasy reads with her descriptions that give more than simply showing the scene. She draws me in with the words as it creates a vision in my mind that projects a feeling as well. Wonderful!

After listening to the story for a while, I got the feel for the growth of the characters Kyel and Traver. They find themselves on the front, in the midst of battle against a dark enemy. Their fall and evolution reminds me of a few of Raymond Feist's characters. The way they find their way at the front feels quick but I like where we go with these characters. They feel to have a strong future in the books.

I'm drawn into the lives of Kyel, Traver, Darien, and others as they battle to survive. We do get the story told from different POV's as the characters cross paths and carry on in different directions. This is great as it keeps us up to date with what each character is experiencing, seeing, and learning. These three are our main three but there are a few others who's eyes we see through.

We have a few battles to fight here. There are internal battles for all the characters, whether it be loss of loved ones or freedom, but we also have two battle fronts that collide. There's the war at the front that's trying to keep the enemy from taking all the land. Then there's a new battle we see come to life at the center of the mage system. When the Well of Tears is opened this creates a new, strong foe for all to battle.

I did listen to the prequel before listening to this book, but you don't have to in order to understand the story. The prequel gave a background, which you can read or listen to at any time.

I am totally looking forward to continuing with the series!

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

The Scribblings Review of Darkmage

Darkmage is set in a world where the only things standing between the (mostly) peaceful kingdoms of the Rhen and the Black Lands of The Enemy are the desperate men guarding the border and the Mages of Aerysius.

The novel has a number of point of view characters, moving in and out of the story, taking the reader around the kingdoms, drawing the story together in places, expanding it where necessary. The bulk of the story though is told through the eyes of Darien Lauchlin. He begins the novel as an acolyte mage but in rapid succession is elevated to full mage and possibly the most powerful in history. He is betrayed, loses his home and just about everyone he cares for.

A very strong part of the novel is Darien’s progression from young, relatively innocent soldier to a haunted man, equally revered and cursed by those he wants to help. The reader is led through what he will do, to others and to himself, in order to do what he believes will save the lands from the agents and armies of the enemy. It’s often easy to be simultaneously appalled by his arrogance and the way he treats people but also understand why he’s doing so.

The world building in the story is very well done. There is a sense that there is a long history in the kingdoms, and pieces of that history are given out as needed. You learn everything you need to follow the plot without any large info dumps, but there is more than enough to suggest a lot more is in place, possibly being held back for future instalments. The same is true of the way magic works in this world. Again, some aspects like the passing of abilities are detailed, while others, like the orders of mages, are only alluded to.

Despite it being billed as the 1st book in the Rhenwars series, Darkmage can be read as a stand-alone novel. Both the writing and the world are strong enough to support this and I certainly had no difficulty enjoying the novel on its own terms. Having said that, I would eagerly visit the Rhen again…

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Well done War Fantasy

Compelling narrative and an interesting world where the war against Darkness and Evil has taken too much of a toll on the world of the story. The narrative primarily follows Darien and very much feels like an origin story for him, and to a lesser extent, his apprentice Kyle.

I like how this world handles magic, as in its not something that comes from within, but is something bequeathed from wizard to wizard and is governed by serious life-or-death rules. I’m looking forward to the subsequent books explaining and delving deeper into the workings of magic in this world.

The political intrigues between the different kingdoms was also interesting, though like magic, I feel we just scratched the surface in this book.

My only real criticism of the story has to do with the female characters, namely they are all pretty much two dimensional archetypes. They are either the Mother, the Lover, or Woman in Refrigerator with no arcs of their own that don’t center around the main character. Even the villainess is a seductress who (spoiler warning:) gets killed the minute after she has sex with the main character. There is a section where we follow the Mother’s POV for a little while and I was really interested in her journey, but then she disappears from the book and (spoiler warning:) gets killed off screen 2/3 of the book later. None of these things are inherently bad, but I did find them disappointing.

Otherwise I would very much recommend getting this book on audible as Simon Wright’s voice and storytelling is very easy to listen to as he has the kind of sound that makes medical disclaimer notices sound sexy.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Brilliant!

This is my first time delving into the world of fantasy. I loved it. From the first scene, ML Spencer's magic with the pen wove a story I quickly became part of and lived through the eyes and souls of her characters. Though it was a world built in fantasy, it was real. Life with its struggles was real -- from the sounds and smells of daily life to the beating hoofs carrying soldiers into war.
Spencer brilliantly deals with real-life conflicts may they be environmental or internal.
I'm hooked and so very much looking forward to reading the rest of Spencer's novel.

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  • Al
  • British Columbia
  • 10-18-18

Dark Fantasy at its finest

You may (or may not) remember I wrote a review for Darkstorm, the precursor to Darkmage, a while back. As far as I know (yell at me if I’m wrong), Darkmage was actually written (or at least published) before Darkstorm, so this is essentially book one, and Darkstorm is book 0.5. I liked Darkstorm, but most of the first 70% or so definitely wallowed in the YA range. Darkmage is very different.

AUDIOBOOK WARNING

Standard Young Adult fare tends to be less satisfying for not Young Adults (or me anyway), as it tends to skirt over issues that less young types find appealing . ML Spencer has skilfully crafted a novel that appeals to the broader audience by dealing with the likes of morality and loss, while maintaining well drawn characters and using a writing style that will appeal to younger readers (as in 18, not 8).

Darkstorm started hard, then softened for a significant chunk of the novel, although it still entertained. Darkmage, on the other hand, starts off dark with the death of the hero’s mother, and destruction of his city. From here, it’s all downhill.

The story revolves around two men, Kyle Archer, just your average Joe, or Kyle, who gets arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, and sent to Greystone Keep to guard against invasion. This sounds bad enough, but just after he arrives, a huge army shows up ready to attack. Out of the frying pan, and so on.

The other is Darien Lauchlin, a mage and son of the Prime Warden. When his brother Aidan kills their mother and open the Well of Tears, Darien finds he is all that stands between the end of the world. Or is he?

This book has it all – friendships are made and ended, political intrigue, epic battles and most importantly, hard choices and sacrifices must be made. As mentioned earlier, I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator did a terrific job, narrating the book as if the weight of the world was on shoulders, while capturing the tone and humour.

Want to check out a new series, or interested in checking out one of indie publishing’s finest authors, look no further. But don’t take my word for it, just read the darn book.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • KD
  • Somewhere
  • 10-07-18

Dark Fantasy

Not your typical sanderson or tolkien in terms of tone. Nor really in terms of quality. But what we have here is a dark story no one seems to win. It kind of draws on my mood reading stuff like this. a lot of popular fantasies have the good guys always winning, this story subverts that seems like nothing good come of anything.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • C.T.
  • Ashland, Ky USA
  • 09-27-18

Awesome book



I reviewed the first novel of the Darkmage and found it to be an enjoyable epic which told a complete story from beginning to end. Despite this, it very is a "saga" and that means more books in the series with new characters and groups. This is an interesting way of doing a series and one which intrigued me even as I also felt the absence of several characters I loved from Darkstorm.

The Rhenwars Saga is the story of a world where the forces of hell are worshiped by a quarter of the population and much of its countryside has been reduced to a Mordor-like hellhole. Opposing these forces are a bunch of magic-using sects and priesthoods who despise one another almost as much (if not more so) than the forces of hell. Despite its seeming Black And White Morality (see TV tropes) premise, it is actually a Gray and Gray Morality world where the so-called forces of evil are no arguably less dark than the fanatics opposing them.

In this case, the story takes place millennium later when humanity has rebuilt itself. A new order of mages now protects the world called the Sentinels and Darrien Launchlin is preparing to join their ranks. Unfortunately, everything goes to hell as the Well of Tears (a gateway to said realm) is opened and the Sentinels wiped out save Darien himself. Darien, by the laws of magic, inherits the entirety of his order's power all at once. Not only will this eventually kill him but insanity is inevitable. Sort of like the Wheel of Time which I noticed several homages too and which has a few of the same themes.

Due to having lost his family and lover during the Sentinel's massacre, Darrien has become suicidal and decides to bring the whole of his power against the forces of the Darklands. This terrifies all of the kingdoms who should, ostensibly, be his allies even as it gives him the power to potentially win the war outright. In this quest, he's also aided by Naia and Kyel who have their own reasons for wanting to break all convention.

I like Darrien as a Rand al'Thor-esque hero. The fact he is working against a ticking clock which threatens to consume him at any time is one which is an intriguing premise. I'm a big fan of flawed antiheroes as any one who reads my writing can attest. I like the fact he longs for death to be united with his beloved, only to find out even that's impossible due to the fact her soul was consigned to the God of Darkness. He's not a particularly likable protagonist but none of the supporting cast give him much reason to be. All of them think of him as a ticking time bomb at best and none of them are allowing him to go through any sort of grieving process before throwing him at their enemies.

Strangely, one of the things I like best about this book is the "anti-romance" between Darrien and Naia. I say anti-romance because it's really about deconstructing and battering down traditional fantasy romances. Darrien is a dark and brooding figure heartbroken by the death/damnation of his lover. In a typical fantasy novel, Naia would help him heal his heart and we would root for them for a happily ever after. Not so here. M.L. Spencer shows how monumentally selfish Naia's feelings are as well as how completely uninterested in a relationship someone like Darrien would be.

There's also a good amount of questioning whether Darien using the equivalent of magical weapons of mass destruction is actually a good thing. We support Darrien in his quest for revenge and protect the, honestly, too stupid to live kingdoms of "good" but the methods he uses start at ruthless then rapidly move toward genocidal. The original Darkstorm novel questioned whether the "hero" was doing the right thing and Darkmage picks up with the consequences of his actions while this is much the same.

Darkmage is a book full of fantastic magical military action and lots of really bloody battle scenes. M.L Spencer has a gift for writing action scenes and moral ambiguity. I think fans of grimdark and more standard fantasy will enjoy this book. I also liked it enough to pick up the third book as soon as I finished this. The narrator does a spectacular job and I can't wait for the rest of the series.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Confusing

It’s confusing to me and has other characters that aren’t the best and of screen deaths that confuse you, it’s not my cup of tea but the narrator did a good job, just a boring story

0 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Dingo 883
  • 10-19-18

Pretty good. Definitely worth a listen.

The story was decent and fairly original. I had a hard time getting emotionally invested in any of the characters but I had no problem focusing on the story. Not always the case with non LitRPG books. The narrator puts on a good performance.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • jim.a
  • 10-08-18

Possible Forward for things to come.

I struggled, Although an interesting listen, I was expecting sooo much more, And perhaps that is to come, Possibly I am old school who thinks Dark Mage would have tonnes of magic, and fantasy, But this was 18 plus hours of talk and the entire start-middle and end of magic could have been summed up in 3 minutes. The narration probably spoiled it for me, although Simon Wright Is clear, he simply reads. I was surprised at one point as I thought His moderation got some enthusiasm, but sadly it was my sat-nav on my phone, telling me to turn left.
Even as I review this, I cannot remember how it ended though I only finished this morning.

Jim

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • J Smith
  • 10-04-18

The start of an Epic YA fantasy adventure!?

I must say that I enjoyed this book a lot more than its prequel! It’s filled to the brim with adventure, magic, battles and intrigue.
It’s still a little tame and cliche’d at times for my tastes but it’s very enjoyable for what it is!
The narrator reads it well, although there isn’t a great distinction between his characters and it’s all read with the same cadence and tone, whether its the description of a babbling stream or narrowly avoiding death in a battle.
I found listening at x1.25 made it more enjoyable and didn’t decrease the quality at all.
The book definitely peaks interest as to what happens in book 2!
This is an honest opinion of a free review copy.