Regular visitors to my blog will know that although I’m an avid reader, I tend to read a fairly narrow range of genres. I like space opera, and I like military SF, and there are more than enough books in those genres to keep me going for a lifetime. When I need variety, the crossover between the two tend to keep things fresh. Yeah, sometimes I branch out into thrillers or superhero material, but I’m a fairly consistent in my tastes. Well, this week I’ve not only broken the mould, but I’ve thrown it through time-space. That’s right, I read a fantasy novel.

And what’s weirder? I enjoyed it!

Battlemage is the first book in the Age of Darkness trilogy, by genre veteran Stephen Aryan. War threatens to the lands of Seveldrom, and dark forces muster under the auspices of Emperor Taikon and his armies. Arraigned against Taikon are a selection of “battlemages” – a vanishing breed of warrior-wizards, capable of manipulating “the Source”. Balfruss is one such battlemage: feared and respected in equal measure. He is accompanied by a handful of other mages, each with a particular specialisation. But the battlemages are not the only weapon available in this war. Vargus is a footsoldier, one of legion soldiers tasked with defence of their homelands, but who is far more than he seems. Meanwhile, behind the scenes spymistress Princess Talandra orchestrates a very different sort of influence over a land at war…

I thoroughly enjoyed Battlemage. It’s a very modern fantasy novel, managing to incorporate many high fantasy elements in a very accessible way. For someone so green to the genre, I found it immediately engaging, and a very easy read, which (whether through design or coincidence) understands the indulgences of the genre, and avoids them. The plot is engaging, the action fast, the characters interesting.

Stephen Aryan’s use and description of magic is also worthy of note. Sure, the mages can do incredible things, and a single battlemage is capable of turning the flow of a particular conflict. But every use of magic – every siphoning of the Source – carries a cost. I found that interesting, because we see many of the battlemages really suffering as a result of their use (or overuse) of magic. It’s addictive, but just as the mages shape the Source, so too does the Source shape them. There’s one particular scene that I won’t spoil, but it demonstrates how a single mage can become a near artillery piece: a real WMD on the battlefield. This is really powerful stuff, and a dimension to a fantasy novel that I haven’t seen before.

Battlemage was a very enjoyable read. Books like this remind me that I should really venture outside my comfort zone more often.