Seven years ago, Captain Yala Palathar was a hero. She and her squad of close-knit dragon-riding warriors were Laria's elite, fighting for their nation alongside the monarch and his magic-wielding Disciples. Seizing control of an unmanned island should have been a simple mission, but Yala's squad was little prepared for the horror and tragedy that awaited. Instead of triumph, all Yala and her allies found was death.
Years on, Yala lives in seclusion in the deep jungle, ignoring the rumours of unrest in the capital following the end of the war. She little expects assassins to find her hideout - nor does she anticipate the mission that ended her career to have given rise to rumours that see her targeted by mercenaries vying to claim a price on her head. With the other survivors from her squad being picked off one by one, she has little choice but to return to the capital in the hopes of finding answers.
Whether the truth lies with the Disciples of the Flame - who refused to believe her stories of the monstrous beasts that haunted the island - or with the long-dead king who sent her squad to their doom, one thing is clear. Yala must finish the battle she started all those years ago... even if it brings her face to face with the god of death Himself.
Death's Disciple is the first book in the eponymous series, a dark fantasy proposal by Emma L. Adams. A character-driven story with a strong female main character, a world with war dragons, corruption spreading and multiple cults; those are some of the elements that make this book an excellent fast-paced story.
"Yala yanked back the misshapen piece of fabric masquerading as a curtain and found a giant eye staring back at her.
With an oath, she recoiled. A war drake? What in the hells is it doing this deep in the jungle?
At one time the sight of a large reptilian beast had been as familiar as her own squad, as had the mixture of anticipation and nerves that preceded a flight. Her mind brimmed with memories of sitting on a similar beast’s back and soaring above the waves, the wind in her hair and a squad to protect with her life.
Now, her squad had scattered, and the war drakes returned to the wild from which they came. This was no trained steed but a mere animal, and from the way its nostrils contracted below its pitch-dark eyes, it smelled prey."
Years after her squad was disbanded, captain Yala Palanthar is trying to have a secluded life, avoiding the world. When she receives a bunch of unwanted visitors, including a war dragon among them, she's convinced that her past is coming back to haunt her, putting in danger not only her, but the rest of her former squad mates.
In the company of an acolyte, she will be forced to leave her reclusion and travel to the city of Dalarthar; there, she will discover that a group called the Successors has put a price on her head, but not only that, a political revolution is being brewed.
Corruption is also starting to appear in the city, bringing Yala flashbacks of that final mission where her squad only found death; and that marked her for life.
"Kelan followed the mercenaries downriver, heading deep into the heart of Laria’s southern jungle. Their dug-out canoe served its purpose, but their progress was slow enough that he could have gone back and forth from their destination several times in the time it took them to round a single curve of the river. Then again, since he had the ability to fly, that was hardly a fair comparison to make, and he had little doubt that they’d appreciate his help with the journey.
One of the mercenaries jerked upright when he spotted Kelan, his eyes widening at the sight of the strange, cloaked intruder hovering a foot above the riverbank. Kelan flashed their group a reassuring smile before taking a gliding step towards their canoe, his feet hovering slightly above its wooden edge to avoid tipping it sideways. Three men occupied the cramped space, clothed in dirt-stained gear and laden with battered oars.
“Greetings,” he said. “Are you by any chance on the tail of a certain bounty?”
“Who are you?” A large man with a straggly beard half-heartedly drew a knife from his belt, though he must know he hadn’t a hope of skewering someone out of reach without upending the canoe. “You’re one of those … Disciples.”
“Whatever gave me away?” Kelan took another step across the air so that he stood directly above the helm of their canoe. “I’m Kelan of Skytower, and I’m following a rumour of a large reward on offer for the life of a particular individual.”
In Death's Disciple, we have a certainly interesting character cast, starting with Yala. Captain Yala Palanthar retired after the disbanding of her squad, but returns to civilization after she's convinced her past might put in a danger her former mates and herself. She has reasons to be angry with the world, especially with how she was treated by the people in power; and while she wanted to flee from that last mission's memory, accepting and growing over it will be the key to solving the situation.
Accompanying Yala we will have two acolytes, each one from a different religion, and pretty much opposed in personalities. While one is kinda annoying and we will need our patience to deal with him, it's impossible to not develop a kind of affection for Niema, naive and idealistic, who hasn't visited the exterior world before.
While the world is not the main focus of this story, we get to see many original details weaved into the story, such as war dragons, and a complex net of politics. Gods have real power, with one of them taking a prominent role in this novel, and religions are formed around them.
A nagging sense of familiarity surrounded the woman despite Yala’s certainty that she’d never seen her before, and it didn’t escape her attention that Niema was surveying her with equal curiosity. Her scars often attracted attention; while her leg was covered, a thinner scar bisected her right cheek, and no doubt she still had dried blood on her chin from the war drake’s attack earlier. Niema’s face was blemish-free … save for a faint birthmark on her neck, forming the outline of a leaf. Not a birthmark, in fact, but a tattoo. Recognition hit her. “You’re a Disciple of Life.”
“I am,” she confirmed. “And you’re Yala Palathar.”
A Disciple? Didn’t the Disciples of Life live in enclaves deep within the forest, without any contact with the outside world? Why had Vanat sent one of them to find her? “I’m sorry, why are you here?”
“I’ve come to warn you, Yala.” She drew in a breath. “It’s my belief that you are in danger.”
“Danger.” The woman’s matter-of-fact sincerity left Yala utterly nonplussed. “If you’re here to warn me that a wild drake is going to disturb my nap, you’re several hours too late. Otherwise, please enlighten me.”
The pacing is relatively fast, starting in a really high spot at the very start, with a slower part in the middle, building the tension for a final avalanche, showing Adams' strength in writing action scenes (especially when they involve war dragons).
Death's Disciple is an excellent first installment, a delightful novel, perfect for dark fantasy fans who like fast-paced stories. Definitely, I want to read book two as soon as it is published!
Emma L. Adams
Emma L. Adams spent her childhood creating imaginary worlds to compensate for a disappointingly average reality, so it was probably inevitable that she ended up writing fantasy novels. She has a BA in English Literature with Creative Writing from Lancaster University, where she made it her mission to insert a dragon into every story she wrote.
Now, Emma lives in the middle of England and is the international bestselling author of over 30 novels including the Changeling Chronicles and the Order of the Elements series. When she’s not immersed in her own fictional universes, Emma can be found with her head in a book, playing video games, or wandering around the world in search of adventure.