An untried young man.
An escaped criminal.
An uncontrolled magical gift.
These are among the common clichés frequently trotted out in the realm of epic adventures and speculative fiction. Whether you mind reading about them again depends entirely upon how effectively the author weaves the tale. Unfortunately new authors are, all too often, likely to borrow from the lexicon of over-used plot coupons, and are frequently prone to handling them poorly. But while Bret M. Funk's premier offering, Path of Glory, certainly gives the author room to grow, the story doesn't seem at all tired or over-played. This is, for the most, part an enjoyable read.
It has been over 800 years since the four races – Humans, Elves, the giant Garun'ah, and the animal-like Orog – worked together to imprison the evil wizard Lorthas behind The Boundary. Since that time, the Orog have been lost completely, having taken too many losses in the war with the evil mage. The three remaining races have isolated themselves, growing in their distrust of one another. And the mages, the human wizards who were key in creating the prison designed to house Lorthas, have gone into hiding as the fear of their powers takes hold across the entire land of Madryn.
Jeran is an orphan who lives with his uncle on a farm in a small village a hard day's ride from the boundary. This far north, the only strangers he has ever met are the rare peddlers who come through town and the occasional visitor from Portal, the fort guarding the lone passage into the boundary - until the day he meets Dahr catching fish in a nearby stream. Though only having lived twelve winters, Dahr stands head and shoulders taller than his new friend, despite being two years younger.
Being homeless and on his own, Dahr accepts an invitation to stay with Jeran and his uncle and soon becomes a real part of the family. His sense of belonging is short-lived, however, when the farm – actually the entire village – is razed by the Durange brothers: Tylor, known as the Bull, and Salos, called the Scorpion. What makes this even more devastating is that these brothers were thought to have been imprisoned behind the boundary. Clearly the boundary is weakened, possibly even failing entirely. And as his uncle was captured by the Bull during the attack on the village, it falls to Jeran and his companion Dahr to carry this dire news to the king.
Jeran and Dahr's flight to the capital city barely scratches the surface of this epic tale. The author does a good job early on, making you care about these characters and hope for their survival and safety. These are not characters with no depth or flaws. From the beginning, the author describes people with fears and shortcomings – with pride and inferiority complexes and prejudices and weakness. No mere cardboard cutouts, these are people with personality.
However, once they have completed their original journey, the pace of story development slows to a crawl. While it's vitally important for characters to age and mature over the course of a story, it is a mistake to drop a seven-year gap into the middle of the book. It is more than a little unbelievable that, with the impending failure of a magical prison as well as two evilly murderous brothers on the loose, that seven years could pass with no direct effect on the capital of Alrendria or the boys who managed to escape their fate at these killers' hands.
The second half of the story's development first has to begin with getting the reader familiar again with the main characters, aged and matured by seven years with the turning of a single page. Much of that is done by telling about character development and the passage of time rather than showing the developments in a natural unfolding of the story. There is some "on-screen" growth of these young men, but nearly a quarter of the book is lost in the slow, static revelation of details. Action is finally restored toward the end of the book as a new adventure awaits Jeran and Dahr in service of their King.
Overall, Bret Funk has done a good job with his first novel. While the story is at times flawed, it is still satisfying and leaves this reader looking forward to the second installment in the Boundary's Fall series. Jeran may not displace Frodo Baggins as the crown prince of epic fantasy; he may not overtake Harry Potter as the favorite angst-ridden teen. But this is a magical story in its own right and should please lovers of the genre who are listening for a new voice to lead them across a new wilderness.