This is the first book of the 'Stormwatcher' trilogy, which appears to be a self-published debut in the fantasy field by this author. At present, it is only available in ebook format.
The story focuses on two main characters, both teenage boys. Caedun is a talented bard who is taken to the northern city of Taarhan by its king, Rhofarn, for unexplained reasons, since he doesn't even appear to like music. Tiel is an elf fostered with a peasant family by his powerful mage father, also for unexplained reasons, who is taken to the Castle, a mage centre of learning, when his abilities emerge. We follow the two for some twenty years as they grow up and adapt to their new environments.
Caedun's story is the more appealing. He is a likeable character, who is befriended by the king's son, Rordan, and becomes like a brother to him, eventually becoming his closest confidante. Tiel has more difficulty settling in. His powerful abilities as a mage get him into trouble, and when he tries to become a healer, he is unable to do that effectively either.
The first half of the book is rather episodic and uneven, with some incidents described in great detail and then a jump of several years. It would feel less disjointed, perhaps, to have some description of these intervening periods, however brief. Some of the background characters are also rather sketchily drawn. I would have liked to know a little more about Rhofarn, for instance, a rather shadowy and unpleasant character. In particular, I hoped for a proper explanation of why he chose to take Caedun to Taarhan, the key event which opens the story, and perhaps some dialogue with Caedun which would have made him a more rounded character. Rordan's wife, Serra, is another character given virtually no exposure, apart from one crucial incident.
Around the midpoint, the story opens out to introduce a number of important and interesting new characters, and we begin to get some sense of the underlying politics and tensions in the 'Stormwatcher' world, and the various religions in it, and perhaps some hints of the nature of the coming storm. But still people's motives are not always clear. For instance, a significant plot line revolves around the abduction of mages for some undisclosed purpose, but there is never a clear explanation of this, or why they are so badly treated that they are likely to die.
'Storm Rising' follows a conventional fantasy template - it is the first part of a trilogy, there are elves and mages and squabbling kings and a magic sword, and there are prophesies of major trouble ahead. The magic is fairly low-key so far, and so is the plot - it feels like it is laying the groundwork for the story proper, so not a lot happens and there are no dramatic resolutions. So far, so normal.
But it is written in a nicely literate style, without overblown Tolkeinesque flourishes. There is a certain amount of violence, but even the most graphic passages are tastefully done, and the romantic interludes are quite charming. Not all the characters are fully rounded, and there tends to be a strong distinction between good and bad, but the two Taarhan friends in particular, Caedun and Rordan, are well drawn, growing from moody, uncertain teenagers, veering from sudden anger to rolling playfully in the snow, to become fully realised and believable adults.
I would really like to give this 3 1/2 stars, but on the assumption that some of the unresolved issues will be addressed in the two following books, I have settled for 4. I look forward to reading the rest of the story. [First written in February 2011]