One of the most entertaining pieces about fantasy is that it can involve—actually, it must involve—elements of a world not our own. Whether this be in the form of magical creatures, a means for humans to use magic, a world entirely unlike our own, there is something that we do not encounter in our own reality. (I will not vouch for other realities. Sorry.) Many fantasy worlds draw on similar elements, like dragons or elves or what-not, that a reader may be at least somewhat familiar with. Others, though, like the world found in Tora Moon’s Ancient Enemies, are elaborate and built up from the ground up in such a way that is completely unique and absolutely amazing.
I am getting ahead of myself, though.
Ancient Enemies follows a society as they battle against monsters. Rizelya is a Red, a fire-user, who leads an attack group against these monsters. The males of their society shift into wolves and a warrior form. (Think big, snarly werewolf with extra muscle and fang.) The females have magic associated with different elements and colours: red for fire, blue for water, brown for earth, etc. Together, they engage in a generations-old fight against monsters that, if let to escape their nests, could destroy all living things. Only problem is, the monsters aren’t acting normally. Now, Rizelya is faced with a collection of extra-bad monsters and has to figure out a way to kill them. She leads a squad pack across the land to learn the extent of these new monsters’ reach. On the way, she learns more about her own people, and a forgotten past.
On the surface, this story is a fairly familiar one in my favourite way. Hero is faced with a challenge and must go on a quest—with companions—to defeat this challenge. Along the way, our hero learns how better to fight, how better to face these monsters, and also learns that things are not exactly what they seem and life is about to get a whole lot worse. It’s one of the more commonly used storylines in fantasy and for good reason. It’s very entertaining. Who doesn’t love a journey to fight the proverbial big bad? And in the case of Ancient Enemies, Tora Moon takes this familiar story line, enhances it, and also manages to turn it on its head.
This is where the world building comes in. Stars, this is some of the most elaborate world building that I have seen in a very long time. The magic system is fully thought out. The monsters are well described. But even more than that, the entire world in which these people exist is built on details that most people take for granted. There are different means of measuring time. The society’s structure is unique and makes perfect sense. The horses are not quite horses. Everything, down to the last detail, is noticed and dealt with. At first, this sort of hugely-elaborate world building can be a bit difficult. You have to adjust to a new way of thinking about things. The tiny pieces that you take for granted are somehow different. But after a while, it is the reverse that’s true. Oh, yes, you want to meet me in an octar? What do you mean, ‘hour’? What is this ‘hour’ concept of which you speak?
Any book that manages to do that is one that is quite capable, I would say.
Now, let’s talk about the characters. This book has a wide range of characters. Our questers are going off across the land, to talk with people, spread knowledge and to learn themselves. Therefore, there is going to be a fairly large cast. Somehow, the characters all manage to be distinct and well described, with their own personalities that make the book worth the reading. The main character, Rizelya, displays traits typical of the Hero. But she is also feisty, capable, and not perfect. In fact, there are a couple of times where she was injured and had to rely on others for a goodly portion of the daily life. It was lovely not to be certain that the main character wasn’t going to die halfway through. (In a good way!)
Then there was our antagonist. I won’t say villain, because the villain was reserved for the creature of nightmares that laughed in Rizelya’s dreams. I will say antagonist because he was directly antagonistic to our main character. I normally have a soft spot for antagonists. They’re just misunderstood monsters with hugely problematic means of causing problems. What’s not to like? But this antagonist was actually disliked. I didn’t like him for very good reason and it was absolutely stunning. To have characters that surprise you like that and yet are still well-developed and well-written is a real treat.
My only real critique for this book is that certain events happened at the end of the book that seemed a little too much like setting up book two. I understand that with a series, it is important to set up events for the next book. But these events all happened too quickly and were a little dramatic to be just the usual ending to a book. Yes, I desperately want to read book two, but I also feel like it’s been set up a little too early. That did not quite jive with the style of the rest of the book.
Overall, Ancient Enemies has immensely impressive world building, characters that I really enjoyed and a story arc that is one of my favourites to read. Plus, there are monsters. You can hardly go wrong with monsters.