Arcamira by Hannah Sandoval
Cosmic Egg Books, ebook, £4.99
Reviewed by John C Adams
This is the debut novel from full-time freelance ghostwriter and editor Hannah Sandoval. ‘Arcamira’ won ‘Best Fantasy Series’ in the 2017 Channillo Awards. With this impressive pedigree for a first-time author in mind, I was really looking forward to immersing myself in this novel.
‘Arcamira’ is basically a dark fantasy mashup between classic sword-and-sorcery fantasy and horror in the form of vampires and werewolves. In the current publishing environment, where readers just can’t get enough of mashups and crossovers, it’s likely to find a ready audience. One of the core point-of-view characters is a seventeen-year-old elf, and beyond that there’s a strong focus on the royal family of Avalon. It’s billed as young-adult fiction, and the age of the human princesses and princes has been carefully chosen to facilitate its coming-of-age positioning in the market.
At a formal ball hosted by the king and queen of Avalon, a vampire insinuates itself into the trust of the royal family and, while dancing with the eldest princess, almost succeeds in luring her out of the castle to turn her. Meanwhile, elven princess Atalanta has been snatched from the safety of her garden home by a two-headed cyclops with a hunchback.
The four Avalon children are soon drawn into searching for Atalanta, who is being held by the monster King Tyrannus, a mixture of vampire and werewolf. He hopes to appropriate her skill in magic to increase his own power and facilitate his war against humans and elves alike.
I liked this book and stayed happily engrossed to the end. However, on balance I felt that the tone was slightly too mature for young-adult fiction, and the main characters felt like twenty-somethings. This is something of a structural problem in sword and sorcery, and here it occurred courtesy of the gravitas of the central characters’ royal status, which combined with the typical early maturity of a medieval-style universe. At thirteen a prince or princess is already riding into battle and well on the way to being formally betrothed, let alone at seventeen and beyond.
The presentation and grammar were impeccable, which isn’t something that can always be said of small publishers’ output. It was mildly literary, but not offputtingly so for a mainstream novel, and overall, I would place it at the more thoughtful end of the fantasy spectrum. It was a master class in good-writing style as defined by the tutors of creative writing classes, and it was impressively evident that the author had taken time to hone their craft. It is probable that larger publishing houses will take notice of that fact and with good reason. The opening was particularly strong, with the tension of the dramatic premise and the introduction of the central characters laid out naturally in a way that was successful in drawing the reader in. It was clear from the get-go that there was going to be plenty of narrative tension to justify its 500 pages.
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