Road of the Lost: Book One of the Judges Cycle
First in the Judges Cycle, Russell’s Road of the Lost is a fast-paced fantasy with an RPG feel. War is brewing, as dark elves and ogres invade the forests of Meridep, preparing to raise an ancient being. Dragons have appeared in a land bereft of them for generations. Two of the crystals of the Antiquities have been stolen. Should the other two disappear as well, all the kingdoms will be in grave jeopardy.
Knights Templar Jerah and Gratas have been sent to the sylvan elf kingdom to find the missing Sir Gersham and the relic sword he carried. They have also been charged with assisting Reslo Tailrep in finding the missing Antiquities crystals. Their tasks will be harder than they think and take them farther than they imagine.
I really enjoyed the jocular, brotherly bickering of the two knights. They may be emissaries to the sylvan court, but they are still young males, just brushing adulthood, and it shows. They prank one another, tease each other, and compete, yet they are loyal to their Order, their oaths, and to each other.
Reslo, guardian of Old Court Road, a tradeway, and first among rangers, is sent with the knights to find the stolen crystals and stop further decay of the forests. He is a sylvan elf, stoic and cynical yet graced with humor. It takes him a while to warm up to the knights. Compared to the elves, they are clumsy and young. His interactions with the knights are often hilarious and full of sarcasm.
We meet several species, cultures, and kingdoms. There are the humans, with their divided kingdom. There are bright elves, dark elves, sylvan elves, fairie-folk, ogres, and dragons, along with ancient preternaturals and living gods. We learn the history of the lands and get to explore several cultures. The sylvan elf court, built in a human keep reclaimed by the forest, was fascinating. I loved the rich detail given to Miradep and to the cultures. I want more of the Uashin Lorekeepers!
The perspective jumps often, shifting from person to person and group to group. This made it difficult to parse at times, especially when it happened in a battle. People and place names were also confusing on occasion. Some of the history puzzled me. At times, Reslo’s people seemed the “bad guys,” and other times the humans did. The history makes it seem like humans took over land belonging to Belsarik’s people long ago and now the old invaders are getting pissy because Belsarik’s displaced are ready to try to take back their lands. I have plans for a reread in hopes of greater clarity. It should be noted that this is most likely a “me” thing rather than a story thing.
Much of Road of the Lost felt like reading a video RPG. Tales of literal dungeon crawls (Gratas’ vampire story, for one), how the magic works, the ensorcelled weaponry, even the Antiquities crystals, all made me think of the earlier Final Fantasy games. Especially the crystals. Crystals play a large part in those earlier games. That called to mind Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance books, which evolved out of playing Dungeons and Dragons. This was a fun fantasy read. I look forward to seeing how the story develops and how the author grows as a writer.