4 1/2 Stars
Sea Predators do not fear. But Bowmark, son of the king, has always feared the proving. On that day he must take a life or die, lest his father’s throne pass unto another. The Protocol demands it. The Protocol is everything.
Then the dreaded day arrives. And ends in a way he could never have foreseen. He is alive, but wounded, scarred in flesh and spirit. An exile, wandering the seas of Talifar. To return, he must obtain ten treasures from an outer world of which his people know nothing. But can he face dangers he has never imagined? And overcome the torments within his very soul…
The story takes place within a vividly detailed setting enhanced by beautiful illustrations.
The Scarred King: Exile is a coming-of-age fantasy narrative with a quest structure that reminded me of Legend of Zelda. The story takes place within a vividly detailed setting enhanced by beautiful illustrations. The world-building is done organically with minimal exposition. There’s also a compelling undercurrent of mystery—when and where does this take place? A magical world completely separate from our own? Or an alien world far in our own future? It looks like the former at first, but there are key hints implying the latter.
There’s a slight African/Polynesian feel to the story world, but many aspects are completely original. There is a Christian-derived background theology that is obvious but not preachy: key references are made throughout to a “Giver”, with hints of further details to come. I was especially fascinated by the variety of alien creatures and unique human cultures. I thought the protagonist was African at first, but it soon became clear that his people had entirely original ethnic characteristics.
I was especially fascinated by the variety of alien creatures and unique human cultures.
The narrative seemed slow moving at first, and I thought a somewhat excessive amount of time was spent on the main character’s childhood emotions and friendships (this could ultimately come down to personal preference since young adult fiction is not my usual genre). With that being said, things took some rather intense turns that made me anxious to see what happened next. Bowmark is a conscience-driven protagonist within a society that forces him into the unthinkable. This conflict drove much of the plot and tied into a central theme regarding true kingship and the responsibility it implies (artfully expressed in the “scar” motif that recurs throughout the book). Bowmark faces terrible choices at key moments, and the reader genuinely feels his struggles. The “proving” scenes were especially shattering.
It was also interesting to follow a character from an isolated tribal culture as he explored a larger world. On the one hand, he navigates a society more complex than his own and seemingly more advanced. His own background, however, gives him a different sort of wisdom that proves key in resolving the situations he encounters. The plot progressively thickened throughout his journey, and I am definitely curious now to see how it ultimately turns out. The exact nature of this world itself is also a tantalizing mystery…
I would recommend The Scarred King to young adult readers who enjoy “quest”-style fantasy as well as the classic archetype of a prince becoming a king. Exile looks like the start of a quite interesting series.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The author also contributes reviews to this website.
Heat: There is no sexual content, though there is some romantic tension between two characters, and sex is briefly mentioned as a transmitter for a certain disease.
Violence: Some action-oriented violence.
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Age recommendation: 11 and up.
Reviewed by A.K. Preston
A.K. Preston is the author of The Gevaudan Project, and has published short stories in The Unseen Anthology and The Untold Podcast (to be released sometime this year). You can find him at his website, AKPreston.com. In his spare time, he likes to read classic literature, history, and speculative fiction of all types.