Title: Gates of Stone.
Series: Lord of Islands #1.
Writer(s): Angus Macallan.
Publisher: Ace Books.
Format: Paperback (ARC).
Release Date: February 19th 2019.
My Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆.
Historical fiction writer Angus Donald, the author of The Outlaw Chronicles, brings his talents into the epic fantasy game by writing under his new pen name Angus Macallan the first book of The Lord of Islands series, a high fantasy novel with a strong penchant for Asian culture and history. While the protagonists are young, the world he constructs is ruthless. With grimdark elements sporadically spread throughout the story, this is one adventure that is far from being light and casual. Although the darker moments do feel a bit out of place and unexpected, they assure readers that Angus Macallan does not plan on giving us a fairytale but a fantasy story dripping with horrible instances that will require everyone to not be faint of heart. But does Angus Macallan have what it takes to shove his way among the top tier authors in the fantasy genre today? This is his time to prove it.
What is Gates of Stone about? The story alternates between multiple characters and transports readers to different realities as their lives slowly intertwine within the islands of Laut Besar. Among these key figures is Princess Katerina, a sixteen-year-old young lady who is denied her rightful heir to the empire of the Ice-Bear because of her sex. To claim what belongs to her, she commits a dangerous crime and regains possession of her inheritance, placing her in a singular position that will force her to explore the fragile yet destructive powers she holds within the palm of her hands. Another important hero that sees his life completely changed within an instant is Prince Jun. His story brings him on an adventure to hunt down a dark sorcerer who stripped away from him everything he loved. A devious merchant known by the name of Farhan is also the center of attention as his actions hide much more than what he intends to achieve. Finally, the story also gives us an inside look at a dark sorcerer’s twisted path down into the darkness.
What Angus Macallan successfully delivers in his latest novel is an enthralling and beautiful world that has a lot of action that takes place on the sea. With pirates and whatnot roaming everywhere, danger lurks around the corner, yet is always visible to the naked eye. How he builds his world and integrates his elements of epic fantasy and mysticism are also thoroughly intelligent and compelling without giving any sense of déjà-vu. It is also worth mentioning that his attempt to create an Asian-inspired world is impeccable as the level of detail put into fully-realizing the land and the sea are impressive. Even the research put into simulating the rich Asian history and culture was authentic and helps tremendously in immersing the reader. With what Angus Macallan presents in this story, it wouldn’t be farfetched to believe that there is so much more to explore and discover in the stories to come.
Where things worked a lot less for me is with the characters. Right from the start, I was never able to connect with any of them as they never conveyed any particular traits that tickled my fancy. Often they seemed too unidimensional and functioned according to a particular way of thinking that ultimately led all their actions in one direction with barely any nuance. The lack of complexity was a bit staggering but as the story advanced, a slightly deeper appreciation for their development came to me and offered me the opportunity to overlook this in order to enjoy the story’s direction. To a lesser extent, I also found myself thrown off by some of the more historical elements that were dumped on the reader, especially when the names of people and places were pitched. In fact, a perfect example would be the historical extracts from a certain book that are placed at the beginning of some chapters that never successfully captured my attention or curiosity. Nonetheless, Angus Macallan does a wonderful job of building his world and telling his story.
Gates of Stone is a promising foray into the fantasy genre by an author with a fantastic talent in writing historical fiction and who tactically manipulates his fantasy elements to deliver a dark and action-packed story.
Thank you to Ace Books for sending me a copy for review!