Publisher: Stoneguard Publications/Podium Audio (Audiobook – 19 December 2020)
Series: Rivenworld – Book One
Length: 27 hours and 18 minutes
My Rating: 5 out of 5 hours
Prepare for an epic fantasy adventure with a great classic feel to it, as awesome author M. L. Spencer presents the massive and captivating fantasy novel, Dragon Mage.
Back in 2020, the fantasy book world was abuzz with talk about the compelling and impressive fantasy fiction epic, Dragon Mage by M. L. Spencer, who was already known for her Rhenwars Saga and Chaos Cycle books. While I have not had the opportunity to read any of her previous works, Dragon Mage definitely caught my eye, especially with the very cool cover with the awesome art. While I never got the chance to read this book when it was first released, I did grab an audiobook copy of it and have been looking for an opportunity to listen to it for some time. When I found myself in the mood for some great high fantasy a few weeks ago, I decided it was finally time to listen to Dragon Mage, especially as a future Rivenworld book is apparently on the horizon, and boy did I have an outstanding time with it.
Aram Raythe is a simple lad from a small fishing village in the middle of nowhere. A strange boy with a love of knots and an inability to understand people, Aram thinks that he will go through life alone and hopes for a quiet existence as a sailor. However, Aram has a secret that he has never told anyone: he can see the colourful strands that make up the world, and he can manipulate them to do magic.
When a bard arrives at the village, seeking an apprentice, Aram uses his powers to help the only person who was ever nice to him, fellow teen Markus Galliar, get chosen; however, he is unprepared for the chaos that this action will unleash upon his life. While the bard, who recognises his potential, attempts to take him to safety, Aram accidently unleashes his power to cause a rift in the world. Soon the village is visited by an Exilari sorcerer, who captures Aram and Markus, seeking to drain Aram’s essence and use it to power his own magical abilities.
Aram’s destiny lies not in the torturous extraction cellars of the Exilari but with an order of dragon riders from another world. When fate drags him to them, Aram will find acceptance and friendship for the first time in his life, as well as the opportunity to fight against the Exilari, their dark allies in this new world, and the ancient monsters who control them. But to do that, Aram will need to learn to tap into the massive power lying deep within him and figure out how to use it to become a true Champion, the most powerful beings in two worlds. Can Aram become both a Champion and a dragon rider, and what role will Markus play in his turbulent life?
I am really regretting not reading this book when it first came out. While it was a lengthy read, Dragon Mage proved to be an excellent and captivating high fantasy adventure, and it was exactly what I was in the mood for. Featuring an elaborate and massive narrative, complete with unique fantasy elements and some exceptional characters, Dragon Mage was an outstanding book that gets a full five-star rating from me.
Spencer produced an extremely epic and complex narrative for Dragon Mage that I had a particularly awesome time getting through. Now, I do have to admit that Dragon Mage has a pretty lengthy story and it takes a considerable amount of time and effort to get through it. In addition, the narrative does get a bit slow in places, especially at the beginning, and there were a few points where I struggled to make progress. However, if you set aside the time for it and make an effort to keep going, I guarantee that it is more than worth it, as it unfolds into an epic, multidimensional coming-of-age story that has a real classic fantasy vibe to it. The impressive, self-contained tale within will keep you entertained and stick with you well after you have finished reading it.
The story itself starts off with an extended introduction to the main characters of Aram and Markus, which showcases their personalities, histories and views of the world, while also featuring their first meeting and the start of their friendship. I struggled a little to get through this opening part of Dragon Mage, mainly because I did not initially connect with Aram and his distinctive personality. However, once you get several chapters in, the excitement starts to increase, as you see the full potential of the protagonist, as well as the introduction of a brilliant antagonist, Sergan Parsigal, who really moves the narrative along. He quickly captures the two protagonists, which leads to several brilliant scenes, including an awesome and exciting escape from monsters from outside of reality. From there, the story evolves into more of a magical school narrative, which I naturally loved (see my recent list about favourite books with magical schools in them), although it doesn’t last too long, as Spencer throws in a pretty dark twist and a heartbreaking time skip.
Following this time skip, the story evolves again, with Markus and Aram separated for a while after Markus rescues Aram. The two characters soon develop in different story arcs, with Aram spending time in a completely new world, which sees him finally starts to explore his full potential. After some more chapters in a whole different magical school setting, the main characters converge again, with some great drama. Without going into too much detail, the rest of Dragon Mage keeps building on the plot from the first half of the book, and the characters are thrown into a ton of deadly situations as they continue to grow and discover their destiny. Spencer layers the rest of Dragon Mage with a great combination of adventure, war, character development, training, romance, friendship, conflict and tragedy, which comes together into an extremely powerful narrative. There are some truly epic scenes throughout this second half of the book, and you really grow attached to all the major characters in the book, which Spencer will make you pay for in some dark sequences. Some of the major appeal is watching the slow but steady growth of the protagonist as he evolves from being unconfident and isolated to a powerful hero, helped along by the friendships he forms with those close to him. Everything ends with a massive pulse-pounding confrontation that will keep you on your toes and ensure you cannot put down this book as you wait to see how everything turns out. Readers will come away from Dragon Mage extremely satisfied, and the author leaves open some intriguing storylines for the future, that I hope the author will continue.
One of the things that I particularly appreciated about Dragon Mage was the elaborate and compelling fantasy elements that Spencer introduced. Dragon Mage actually features two separate realities, which were previously joined before being separated into The World Above and The World Below during a historical cataclysm. These worlds can still be journeyed through by breaches caused by magic users and much of the plot revolves around the characters trying to stop an evil plot to recombine the words in a new cataclysm. The book starts off in The World Above, a typical medieval setting which is ruled over by a despotic empire controlled by an order of magicians known as the Exilari, who gain their power through draining the essence of anyone with magical potential. The second half of the book is set in The World Below, which features a range of magical creatures, including dragons, magical horses, and other creatures. The World Below is in the grip of deadly war between an evil demigod (one of several who rule both worlds) and an order of dragon riders, who serve as its primary protectors. Spencer does a great job introducing both worlds throughout the course of Dragon Mage and while they might not be as heavily explored as if there was only one world, you get a good sense of how they different and the histories that surround them. Both are very distinct in their own way and I had a lot of fun seeing both, especially as they provide a compelling contrast to each other as two halves of the same coin. I really like the switch between worlds that occurred halfway through the book and having the focus change to the more magical World Below made for quite an enjoyable and exciting read.
I was also a fan of the unique magical elements contained within Dragon Mage, which, as the name suggests, is big on magic and dragons. The magic itself is quite interesting, if a little ethereal in its description, and there are a few different versions of it. The primary form of magic is shown through Aram’s eyes and is tied into the strands of energy that make up the world. These strands, which only a few people can see, can be manipulated and tied into knots by the magic user for various magical effects. This is a very unique system, and it ties in well with Aram’s peculiarities, especially as he spends much of the early part of the book obsessed with knots without anyone understanding why. This results in some awesome displays of magic, and I found Aram’s perception of the magic and how it works to be extremely fascinating. Other forms of magic include Markus’ magical immunity, natural passive magic from other characters and items, as well as the magic of the Exilari, which they gain be stealing the essence from magic users like Aram. The destructive Exilari make for exceptional villains in this book, especially as they bask in their stolen power in a very creepy way, and I deeply appreciated that Spencer spent the time to explore their organisation, especially as the protagonists spend time in their training facility.
Then of course, there are the dragons, which inhabit The World Below. I always enjoy a good dragon focused story, and this one was pretty fun as Spencer goes for a sentient dragon that bonds with a rider. While this has been done before, I think that Spencer altered it enough, especially as quite a lot of the book is dedicated to them and their place in the world. The author spends a substantial time exploring the bond between human and dragon, and you get to see the entire process, from the initial training of the human recruits, the hatching of the dragons, their bonding, and then their eventual use in combat. There are a huge number of dragon characters in this book, and you get to see inside many of their minds and their bonds, especially as Aram can communicate with all of them. The bond itself is a deep and personal connection, and I loved the scenes that examine how lethally strong it is, with human or dragon rarely surviving the death of their partner. Having the emotional connection to a dragon becomes a key aspect of several of the key characters and it was really moving to see characters who have lost a lot in their life find new companionship with a soul bonded dragon. The subsequent scenes of dragon combat are extremely awesome, and I appreciated that Spencer introduced some equalisers to make sure that they didn’t come across as too overpowered. I had a wonderful time with all the fantasy elements in this great book and Spencer made great use of all her unique or fun elements to enhance and tell a brilliant story.
On top of the elaborate narrative and compelling fantasy elements, I was also very impressed by the amazing characters that Spencer featured in Dragon Mage. The story revolves around an outstanding cast of complex and damaged characters, each of whom brings their own light and pull to the book. Spencer sets all of these characters up extremely well, and while it might take you a while to appreciate a couple of them, once you do, you become extremely invested in their story and want to find out what is going to happen to them next.
The most prominent character in Dragon Mage is the extremely unique character of Aram Raythe, and this book is primarily his story from childhood to adulthood. Aram is a particularly fascinating choice for central protagonist; while he is shown to be a chosen one with great power, he also portrayed as socially inept and with many strange behaviours. I believe that Spencer wrote Aram as an autistic character (or the fantasy equivalent), especially as he is usually described as a Savant. I personally really enjoyed this, as you don’t see a lot of autistic characters in fiction, and it was a great twist on the classic chosen one story. Aram has a very different viewpoint of the world, and once you understand him you find that he is one of the sweetest and nicest fantasy protagonists you are likely to find, and you really start to care. Unfortunately, Spencer decides to punish you for caring for this character, as the author puts Aram through all manner of hell and torture which really ups the emotional impact of the story. Not only does Aram already have a distinct lack of confidence and social issues, but he is also repeatedly tortured and is deeply traumatised for much of the book. There is also a hidden history to his parentage and a ton of secrets that his mentors are keeping from him that will cause him further grief and impact his confidence. Watching him overcome all of this is very moving, and it is nice to seem him find some friends and slowly build up his confidence. Of course, there is still a lot of trauma coming for him, and you will continue to suffer as you watch him grow. Personally, I deeply appreciated Aram’s powerful character arc and it was one of the most enjoyable and compelling things about Dragon Mage. His entire character history and personality really set him apart from other fantasy protagonists and I appreciated the work that Spencer put into developing him and making him so appealing to the reader, especially as it pays off once he finally finds his confidence and starts to truly become a Champion.
While much of the narrative focuses on Aram, Dragon Mage is also the story of Markus Galliar, who befriends Aram early in the story and shares in many of his adventures as they become close. Markus becomes fascinated by Aram and his unique view of the world, especially when Aram tries to help him escape his abusive father. This friendship soon takes on new heights once Markus discovers Aram’s abilities and he starts to become his protector, a job helped by his own immunity to magic. Constantly forced together, they form a strong bond which survives being captured by the Exilari and several other misadventures. Despite being separated several times throughout the book, the two keep getting drawn back together and Spencer writes a great continuous narrative about their strong connection. The two share a very heartwarming friendship throughout Dragon Mage, and I really appreciate the interesting dynamic they form which sees Markus act as both protector and social guide, even when Aram develops his immense power. While this did have the potential to be a bit one-note, and indeed Spencer did feature way too many scenes of Markus worrying about Aram or waiting over his sick bed, I felt that the author featured a great balance with their relationship, which really pays off once Aram matures and becomes a better friend. The author also ensures that Markus develops outside of his friendship with Aram, and he soon becomes his own man, forced to deal with the horrors of his past to survive. Markus ends up being an extremely compelling and well-rounded protagonist and the author used him perfectly in combination with his unique central character.
Aside from Aram and Markus, I also really need to highlight two other excellent major characters in Esmir Revin and Sergan Parsigal. Esmir is a former dragon rider and Warden to the last Champion, who died due to his failure. Locked in his own despair and regret, as well as the distain of everyone around him, Esmir is given new life when he encounters Aram and Markus and begins training them to be Champion and Warden. I really enjoyed Esmir as a character, especially as Spencer really captured his grief, regret, and self-loathing over his past mistakes. Watching him become a gruff, but kind teacher, represented a great redemption arc in the book and I felt that he was a particularly complex and enjoyable supporting figure that the author did a great job with.
I was also really drawn to the character of Sergan Parsigal, who is one of the major villains of Dragon Mage. The Exilari sorcerer who discovers and initially captures Aram and Markus, Sergan is an ambitious and powerful magic user who seeks to turn his discovery to his advantage. Highly arrogant and malicious, Sergan cuts a distinctive and sinister figure throughout the story, even when he appears to be on the protagonist’s side, especially as he spends most of the book gobbling up magical essence to power his own spells. I loved how Spencer portrayed him as both an adversary and a mentor to Aram and Markus at different points of the book and he ends up forming quite a complex relationship with the protagonists. While at times Sergan is shown to be potentially thoughtful and caring, especially during an early conversation with Aram, he keeps reverting to his own selfish form, and he ended up being one of the best and most complex antagonists in this entire story. I had a wonderful time with these brilliant characters and I’m barely scratching the surface, as Spencer featured a range of great supporting figures and villains throughout the novel, all of whom deeply enhanced this amazing narrative.
To check out this impressive fantasy read, I chose to grab Dragon Mage on audiobook, which is my go-to for massive pieces of fantasy fiction like this. With a runtime of over 27 hours (currently the 13th longest audiobook I have ever listened to), the Dragon Mage audiobook represents a substantial time investment for audiobook fans, although I personally think it was worth it. I tend the find that the audiobook format really enhances my appreciation of the elaborate words that authors create, but it also really brings me into the narrative. This was definitely the case with Dragon Mage, as this format did an outstanding job enhancing the story and I loved hearing all the intense detail about Spencer’s new, unique world and its fantasy elements. It also helped that they got an excellent narrator for Dragon Mage in the form of Ben Farrow, who did a remarkable job here. Farrow is a deeply impressive narrator who perfectly brought this story to life and moved it along at a crisp pace. Not only was he able to recount the massive amount of detail and lore that Spencer fit into the story, but Farrow also came up with a huge selection of fitting voices for all the characters in Dragon Mage. Using a range of different tones and accents, Farrow dove into the cast, and I loved how he was able to capture each character’s essence with his voices. For example, he perfectly showcases Aram’s hope and childlike wonder at the world, while also capturing his fear, uncertainty, and lack of confidence, especially after all the hell he goes through in the early chapters of the book. Other characters are expertly portrayed as well, and I loved how Farrow showcased Markus’ determination, Esmir’s weariness, and even Sergan’s intense arrogance and distain for everyone else. This outstanding voice work helped to turn the Dragon Mage audiobook into something very special, and I had an exceptional time listening to it. I would strongly recommend the audiobook version for anyone interested in checking out Dragon Mage and you are in for an excellent and captivating time if you do.
Overall, Dragon Mage was an amazing fantasy novel that really showcased M. L. Spencer’s skill as an author of epic fantasy. Featuring a captivating narrative that follows great characters around an elaborate new fantasy world, Dragon Mage is exciting, moving and awesome in all the right ways. I had an exceptional time reading this outstanding read and I look forward to seeing how Spencer will follow it up in the future. Recommended reading for anybody looking from some classic fantasy fun.