I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this book, The Trials of the Core (I’d never heard of the author before). I only picked it up because the cover intrigued me—the wax seal was done magnificently. As I started to read the prologue, though, I was hooked. Too many times in fantasy stories prologues do not have any direct connection with the book; happily, here, this was not the case. I really liked, moreover, how the author sets up the premise of the book; he does it in the form of a letter. The letter is addressed to “you”, so right from the beginning it feels as though you, the reader, have been asked to attend these Trials along with the contestants in the story.
Now, speaking of the contestants, I found them to be very interesting although somewhat archetypical. There is an arrogant prince named Hydro Paen (boy do I hate him at times). Like in most stories, there is an orphan underdog named Eirek Morse. But the rest of the characters developed throughout the book are unique, my favorite among them being Zain Berrese. Throughout the novel Zain is constantly battling the guilt of being responsible for his girlfriend’s death and also the betrayal he committed towards his best friend, Zakk Shiren who is another contestant asked to participate in the Trials.
Now, as far as the other two characters I mentioned earlier go, even though they are archetypical, they still are unique in their own way. Hydro Paen has a soft spot for his younger brother, which humanizes him, and a hatred for his mother, who blames him for her daughter’s death. The father places a large amount of pressure on Hydro; and because of this, Hydro’s character slowly devolves throughout the story in a rather absorbing way. Eirek Mourse is unique as well, for although he is an orphan, we can definitely see why he was chosen to compete in these Trials—for his intelligence. The bonds he creates with the other characters throughout the novel also really develop his character into one you cannot help but root for to win. The progression of Eirek’s character is obvious and organic from the rural town of Creim to the barrenness of the Central Core. I look forward to seeing where he takes Eirek in the second novel.
The Trials in themselves (a labyrinth, a challenge of clever riddles, a weapons’ tourney, and an arduous fourth trial that takes place on a planet of fire) make reading the story easy.
One more point I would like to mention is about the magic system in this story, called power. It’s unique! The author doesn’t have magic being capable of healing individuals; instead, there are people labeled adored who specialize in healing people. The only magic that comes into play in this story is elemental power and the ability to use fire, water, lightning, and earth. Now, the trick is that in order to cast magic you need to be able to see the actual element in play. For example, if you are at sea, water would be the easiest element to control (because of its overwhelming majority) but one could not cast the power of earth. There is an awesome battle scene between both princes during the second trial that uses power.
What I think I liked most about this story, though, was the idea of a clear theme—the testing of one’s character and integrity. The Trials really do aim to make sure the apprentice who gets chosen is someone who is of sound character, through and through.
As to my nitpicks, there were times when the overly detailed descriptions slowed the pace of the story. This being said, the author doesn’t go off the deep end as is so often the case with this genre of pages of description to the point where you forget the story. And, also, to be fair, there was enough action that some readers might prefer these little breathers the descriptive passages offered. Because of the number of contestants and judges and other personages of influence, I was in the heads of a lot of characters early on in the story, and it just took me a while to sort out accordingly who was who. But eventually, I did catch on, owing in no small part to the author’s very distinct use of voices and solidly portrayed and unique characters.
Overall, I found this story to be a splendid start to this young author’s career and definitely a worthy kickoff to what I suspect will be an impressive series.