The Age of Darkness: The Shires of York, Book One
Wise Grey Owl, 2017
You would certainly be hard pressed to ask for a better collection of high fantasy elements than those appearing in Joseph Murphy-James’s The Age of Darkness–demons, Romans, rival British monarchies, elves, sentient power crystals, an evil phantasm, and, of course, dragons. These fantastic creatures are “immortal, but not without their weaknesses,” and Age of Darkness explores and exploits this angle. There looks to be no shortage of intrigue and mysticism in The Shires of York series of which Age of Darkness is the first. This series presents itself as a six part history of England’s Yorkshire melded with high fantasy covering the departure of the Rome, the arrival of Vikings, the Norman Conquest, rise of Cisterians, the plague, and, finally, the War of the Roses.
The premise is rather direct, an exiled demon dimension is looking to create portals or Veils through which to enter the world of the Shires. Elves and dragons have a delicate detente centered on preserving and protecting the Crystals of the Veil. When the imprisoned devils of Damonen, “a temporal aberration,” acquire two of the three crystals they need to wreak havoc on the human world, an agreement is made between the Elves and Dragons, the protectors of the crystals, setting in place a grand quest.
Fantasy adventures often succeed or fail based on the stakes of the quest of the story. With no less than the prevention of a new dark ages wherein humanity is ruled by demons on the line, The Shires of York series has certainly set itself a high bar. Fortunately, Murphy-James is able to deliver as he weaves the history of England into his fantasy matrix giving readers an accessible, fast-paced tale managing to keep tensions high as the story’s prime movers set themselves to the task. In Age of Darkness, the machinations of the human Queen Cartimandua to fill the power vacuum left by the withdrawal of Rome’s legions may just fill the countryside with demonic ones. Elven adventurers travel to Damonen to steal away the Crystals there as part of their bargain with the dragon queen Tanwen, who has agreed to permanently lock away the demon realm if the elves aid her.
Overall, Murphy-James has written a solid series debut. The most difficult hurdle for the first book in a new series is the need to dump so much detail immediately upon the reader. World-building is best done subtly, however, when readers initially enter a story they expect and need to be immediately grounded. Murphy-James is able to have the story’s intrigue and world details revealed simultaneously through character interaction. There are times when this doesn’t succeed as well as one would like but once established and over the hump as it were the narrative is smooth. It is the tenor of his characters that make them compelling whether it is the terrifying reticence of demon lord Alaric, the casual and brutal power of Fire Manon Tanwen, the visceral ruthlessness of Cartimandua and her consort Vellocatus, and the mysterious menace of the spectral Malevolence. These are just some of the prime movers of Age of Darkness which gives the Shires series an appropriate frame.
As a debut, Murphy-James has given readers a new old-world to experience and explore alongside the adventurers. The Age of Darkness will charm and excite younger readers as well as adults. The Shires of York series can be found at Wise Grey Owl, an independent author platform promoting books believing writers and readers are stronger together.
Joseph Murphy-James, in his many guises, has been a businessman, enduring the political battles of large corporations in senior positions, many in the FTSE 20. He’s also been an entrepreneur, managing and assisting in the growth of smaller companies, something he found satisfying. Now, he revels in the creation of fantasy worlds, and ones that give life to God’s Own County, Yorkshire, a place that he loves. It’s wonderful and turned out to be safer than the real world.
♦◊◊◊◊–1 Star: Poorly conceived and written, not worth anyone’s time
♦♦◊◊◊–2 Stars: Limited audience, mediocre writing
♦♦♦◊◊–3 Stars: Solid writing, decent ideas and execution, genre appropriate
♦♦♦♦◊–4 Stars: Good writing, engaging ideas and execution
♦♦♦♦♦–5 Stars: Superb writing, excellent ideas and execution, appealing to all audiences