AMPHEUS: FOUR REALMS BOOK ONE by Jonathan Forth, Matador p/b £9.99
Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
This is a beautifully plotted, largely well-written tale in the great tradition of swords and sorcery. This is the first edition of a series of four. It is aimed at the juvenile market, meaning readers aged 12 and over. As such it is a good introduction to the genre but there are reservations.
Here the Dark Lord is named Gorath who threatens the Four Realms defended by King Armanar of Terramis, who has a huge well-fortified castle called Ampheus which is intended to sustain long sieges of which one is clearly pending. Gorath, who started out as Druid of the Fire Realm of Gamura has, over the past millennium drawn to himself all the negative elements in the world with the clear intent of taking over the other three realms of Terramis the Earth Realms, Windstrom the Air Realm and Aquamura the Water Realm. He seeks to conquer them one at a time by either stealth or force.
The tale is set in Ampheus and the reader is rapidly introduced to the principal characters and their back stories. These latter are essential to providing the reader with the full context of the plot and the important links that join the entire plot together. Within a very short time the king’s son, Aron has departed on a quest with a small chosen group of companions to find an ancient sage with magical properties, Queen Laila is on a journey to Lumines, the capital of Aquamura with a request for military support and Gulden, a leading companion of King Armanar is on a similar journey to Celestina, the capital of Windstrom.
Yet the treachery of the Dark Lord has been well laid and covered deep under dissimulation. Where Gorath has not placed traitors, he has exploited human weakness through bogus opportunities. There is a distinct moral message to the story that is both reassuring and uplifting.
Needless to say, an armed struggle begins. Ampheus is attacked and nearly succumbs to the act of a traitor. The knights of the Janshai are Gorath’s dreaded cavalry arm, a once noble tribe that had become reduced to servitude by misfortune. They have penetrated deep into the territory around Ampheus and seek out Aron, Queen Laila and Gulden on their respective quests and journeys aided and abetted by flying monsters. They communicate with Gorath through carrier pigeons only to discover that their own side are eating them!
As this is only the first portion of a longer tale matters remain unresolved except that the main actors are equal to the challenges they confront so the book ends on a high note as Aron encounters a tribe of werewolves and utilises the services of their shaman. This is a very nice touch – better than any of the magic – which has huge potential as a literary device.
However, the writing style does on a few occasions become sloppy. The word `bugger’ was detected four times in the text on pages 188, 190, 250 & 282; alright, it is used in its more innocent, adjectival form often in framing the thoughts of lesser characters, but this book is aimed at a juvenile market! What are the editors thinking! The Four Realms could serve as a sound introduction to the literary form created by Professor Tolkein, but sadly one can’t emphatically recommend it.