Back in July I was approached by E.S. Barrison to read and review her debut novel, The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice which is a new-adult, dark fantasy book and features as the first part of her The Life and Death Cycle series. Big thanks to E.S Barrison for sending me a digital copy in exchange for an honest review.
Book: The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice
Series: The Life and Death Cycle
Author: E.S. Barrison
Genre: New Adult / Dark Fantasy
Publication Date: June 14th 2020
Pages: 436 (e-book)
Synopsis (from the author)
Storytelling was outlawed. Magic had all but vanished.
That all changed when the woman in black came to town.
Branded with the black stamp at a young age, Brent thought he would end up a vagrant like his father. His craft was telling stories, but the Order had long forbidden any weaving of tales. When Brent sees the woman in black, she leads him into a menagerie of tunnels beneath the earth where his life falls into the nauseating, but beautiful, mist of the dead.
He finds friendship in Rho, a young woman who hides her face with a tree branch while roots and vines bow to her every whim. Together, they embark on a journey to explore the world, escape the watchful eyes of the Order, and discover the woman in black’s secrets.
For thousands of years, the mist and the tunnels were under the sole guardianship of the Council of Mist Keepers. But as new monsters enter the mist, and magic is forced out of the shadows, the Council searches for young blood to join their ranks and Brent’s next in line.
The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice is a gritty and complex debut plunging readers into a world filled with tunnels, forbidden magics, storytelling and lost identities.
The jewel in the crown of this debut novel is the multi-layered, magical world that Barrison has created. In the day-to-day we see a poor community suffering just to make ends meet whilst being ruled over by a very stiff and conservative Order; but then, the main character Brent and his sidekick Rho take us on a journey into a mysterious labyrinth of secret tunnels. Fast forward further into the novel and portals transport our imagination into the weird and wonderful places so at odds with Brent’s hometown. All through this, Barrison’s elaborate descriptions really help to bring each different world alive.
I was really intrigued by the varieties of magics on show in the Mist Keeper’s world. Brent’s storytelling powers reminded me of one of my favourite childhood books, Inkheart, whereas Rho’s power over flowers and nature put wonderful images into my head and was a stark contrast with the more urban settings. As for the Lady in Black, I kept visualising her as a cross between the lady from the Scottish Widows advert and Sarah Woodruff from John Fowles’ novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman – this gave her a really dramatic appeal which heightened her presence as Brent’s guide.
At first, I admittedly found Brent to be slightly annoying. His character tends to have a woe-is-me attitude and constantly seems to blame himself throughout the first half of the book. I think this may be what made me feel that the pace initially took a little while to get going. However, once we meet the big-bad demon, Brent comes more into his own. This character growth sees his demeanour and motivations change and the final parts of the novel really pulled me in.
Through her meticulously crafted world and characters, it’s clear that Barrison is a talented writer. At times lyrical and moving, at others edgy and unflinching, The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice is a brilliant tale of how a boy who loved to tell stories is able to find his own strength and identity, bring his stories to life, and use them to stand up for himself and fulfil his destiny.
What good was a storyteller in a land where stories were taboo?
If this was death, at least paradise was indeed a library.
Don’t you see? It’s just one big tale – one big story. We’re all a part of it. We all are.
Why Should I Read This?
For a complex, multi-layered world which gets more and more intriguing throughout.
For an urban, edgy and gritty ‘new adult’ take on the dark fantasy genre.
For the journey of self-discovery and identity of the main character.