Lichgates by S. M. Boyce
Kara Magari is about to discover a beautiful world full of terrifying things–Ourea.
Kara, a college student still reeling from her mother’s recent death, has no idea the hidden world of Ourea even exists until a freak storm traps her in a sunken library. With no way out, she opens an ancient book of magic called the Grimoire and unwittingly becomes its master, which means Kara now wields the cursed book’s untamed power. Discovered by Ourea’s royalty, she becomes an unwilling pawn in a generations-old conflict–a war intensified by her arrival. In this world of chilling creatures and betrayal, Kara shouldn’t trust anyone… but she’s being hunted and can’t survive on her own. She drops her guard when Braeden, a native soldier with a dark secret, vows to keep her safe. And though she doesn’t know it, her growing attraction to him may just be her undoing.
For twelve years, Braeden Drakonin has lived a lie. The Grimoire is his one chance at redemption, and it lands in his lap when Kara Magari comes into his life. Though he begins to care for this human girl, there is something he wants more. He wants the Grimoire.
Welcome to Ourea, where only the cunning survive.
In a word: fascinating world-building, strong characters, a bevy of magical creatures, and a rather circuitous quest.
Lichgates is brimming with creative energy. Often when I read fantasy stories I’ll come across an interesting world-building idea and think “cool” or “that’s original.” But as I was reading this book, I often wrote notes in my Kindle that said “WOW!” or “What an awesome idea!” Boyce infuses her novel with exclamation point-worthy ideas from start to finish, and I was sucked into her magical world of Ourea. Although the author uses many familiar fantasy tropes—a quest, a magical portal that leads to another world, cute and cuddly animal sidekicks, and plenty of evil bad guys—I found Lichgates to be a charming story full of engaging characters that goes beyond surface material and thoughtfully explores the human condition as well.
Kara Magari is taking a walk in the woods one day when she stumbles upon an arched wooden structure with the word “Lichgate” carved at the top. She decides to explore and steps through it, only to find herself in a strange world. When she opens a door embedded in a rock face, she is pulled into an odd library-like room filled with old and dusty books. Kara’s fate is sealed when she manages to open a locked book called the Grimoire, an ancient journal penned by a man known only as the Vagabond. Much to her chagrin, Kara has become the new Vagabond and now holds the secrets and powers of the Grimoire.
Soon after, she meets Braeden Drakonin, a boy her age who has been trying to find the Grimoire for himself. But Braeden is not human. He lives in one of the kingdoms of Ourea and has been hiding out for the past twelve years, trying to avoid his father, an evil and powerful man named Carden whose people, the yakona, are known for torturing their enemies. Braeden longs to change his fate and wants his father to believe he is dead. But his luck—as well as Kara’s—doesn’t last long, and the two are thrown into the middle of a land whose kingdoms are warring against each other.
Kara and Braeden are sent on a quest to try to unite the kingdoms in a peace treaty, and most of the story follows them as they struggle to follow the instructions of the Grimoire and stay alive, as many people in Ourea seem to want them dead.
This is a fairly complex tale, and while I loved the creativity of the world-building, it sometimes seemed a bit too much. Not only are there five or six different kingdoms to keep track of, but the creatures who live in each kingdom each have their own set of rules and magical powers, not to mention difficult-to-pronounce names. Boyce fills her land with a large variety of mythical creatures both familiar (dragons, griffins and mermaids) and unfamiliar (earaks, flaers, and isen), and gives her characters the ability to wield all kinds of magical weapons (swords with poisonous edges and arrows made from air, to name a few). I almost wanted my own Grimoire to guide me through the complicated parts of the story (and in fact, the author has already created a website for the book, complete with an encyclopedia: check out http://www.thegrimoirebooks.com for lots of extras!)
I loved the Grimoire itself, an ancient book that hides the soul of the last Vagabond, a wise and friendly man who occasionally pops out the book to dispense advice and warnings. And the lichgates of the title, portals between the kingdoms, were a great device that not only showed the division between each of the lands, but helped keep enemies away.
Although the quest Boyce sends Kara and Braeden on was sometimes confusing (I honestly forgot where they were at times, since they travel to so many different locations), there’s never a dull moment. A map included somewhere in the book would have been a nice addition for readers to visualize their journey.
The best part of the story for me was the characters. I loved the feistiness of Kara, a girl who can never go home and must face some painful memories in order to move into her new role as the Vagabond. Braeden was one of my favorites, and I thought Boyce did a great job giving him both strengths and weaknesses, which ultimately makes him more human (even though he’s not). He hates his father and wants to destroy him, but he’s forced to look at that desire from an ethical standpoint. Boyce asks the question, is it morally right to destroy an entire race of people, even if they are bloodthirsty killers? The fact that Braeden has trouble answering this question made him even more likable. Kara and Boyce are adorable together, and even though the author doesn’t emphasize the romance, their growing attraction to each other is slow and satisfying. Several minor characters also stood out; a young girl named Twin who seems lost without her dead sister; and a creature that Kara hatches from an egg named Flick, who imprints on her and becomes her fierce protector.
Aside from a few awkward sentences that could have used a heavier editing hand, Lichgates is a solidly written story that will plunge the reader into a fascinating, but dangerous, world. This is only the beginning of The Grimoire Saga, and I look forward to continuing the adventure.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
Praise for Lichgates
Wow, the world building on this one was breathtaking. The world of Ourea is just full of so many things. Surprises are around every corner.
From the first few pages into this story, it was obvious that Boyce has a way with words.
~Author Becca Campbell
Author S.M. Boyce
International Amazon Bestseller. Fantasy Author. Twitter addict. Book Blogger. Geek. Sarcastic. Gooey. Odd. Author of the action-packed Grimoire Saga.
S.M. Boyce is a novelist who loves ghosts, magic, and spooky things. She prefers loose-leaf tea, reads far too many books, and is always cold. She’s married to her soul mate and couldn’t be happier. Her B.A. in Creative Writing qualifies her to serve you french fries.
Boyce likes to update her blog a few times each week so that you have something to wake you up in the morning.
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