Enter Atolas, a world where swords and daggers both extend life and end it, where magic is feared by all but a few, and where feuds and friendships influence kingdoms and courtships. In The Fool and the Dragonox, a prequel to A Tale of Light and Shadow, we meet Henry Vestin, his best friend Ruther, his sister, Maggie, and the love of his young life, Isabelle Oslan, as they begin an adventure that will help define their ongoing friendship.
I decided to read this for two reasons: 1) the first book in the series this is a prequel to (A Tale of Light and Shadow) will be at Book Expo this year and 2) it was free fantasy. I don't turn down free fantasy if the story is at least halfway interesting to me.
Honestly though I almost stopped after the first 20% on my Kindle. There wasn't anything in particular so wrong with it, the writing just didn't catch me. Gowans starts with Henry and Ruther running from some Zapperbees (yes they are what you think they are) and then paints broad strokes of story exposition and character development. Gowans does a lot of telling in the first 15% or so and that gets annoying.
I kept reading though, mostly to see what a "dragonox" was and who the fool turned out to be (its Henry, and yeah I'd have to agree he was pretty foolish). I also wanted to know why Maggie disliked Ruther so much. Her entire manner is antagonistic and dismissive, so even if Henry didn't say she disliked Ruther it would have been very obvious.
I found out one and not the other unfortunately.
By the end I became intrigued enough to read the short excerpt from the first book and decided I definitely wanted to know what was going on. While the world building isn't deep in this prequel novella, there's enough to give it some mystery. Its largely a typical euro-medieval type fantasy setting and that's all I know about it. The politics, culture and society aren't a large part of either the novella or excerpt from the first book included, but readers of fantasy can fill in the blanks well enough to get along.
I'm a romantic enough to want to see if Henry and Isabelle end up together
In the end this is a fun romp in the characters lives, but I can't help but feel that if I had read the first book this would have felt less vague. There's a certain sense of camaraderie that is missing and would have worked better with the addition of an entire book's worth of adventure between the group.