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Return of the Guardian King
by Karen Hancock

Reviewed by Heather R. Hunt

"...Karen Hancock's layered writing and rich storytelling skills will wrap you up in these character's lives..."

Enter again the lands of Kiriath, Chesedh, Esurh, and Draesia. Wander the endless dunes of the Great Sand Sea. Experience the mighty grandeur of the Divine Hall of Records.

If you've visited these realms before while exploring the "Legends of the Guardian-King" in the three earlier tales The Light of Eidon, The Shadow Within, and Shadow Over Kiriath, then you know the sort of epic adventure that lies in store for you in this final legend, The Return of the Guardian-King. But even if you've never set foot on these shores, I am confident that Karen Hancock's layered writing and rich storytelling skills will wrap you up in these characters' lives so much that you will have no trouble following their storylines.

When last we left Abramm Kalladorne, King of Kiriath, he was king no longer, having been stripped of his domain by his demented brother and publicly executed. His subjects - and even his wife, Maddie, and sons, Simon and Ian - think their sovereign has been martyred for his beliefs. But readers know that his loyal supporters saved him at the last though by the time they secret him away to the northern lands he is clinging to life.

As in the classic space fantasy Return of the Jedi, there are dark times in Abramm's journey back, times in which we wonder if he will succumb to the Shadow spore that resides inside him. And like Luke Skywalker, Abramm's ultimate destiny is to face his mortal enemy, the dragon who takes many forms and many names, some beautiful and seductive, and some ugly and accusatory. Maddie, too, left behind and expected to remarry for the sake of the besieged kingdom, faces her own dark night of the soul.

Yes, some of these themes may be familiar, but that's what makes them universal. And Hancock fleshes them out in entertaining and rewarding new ways.

My one quibble with Return of the Guardian-King is, alas, a big one: the cover. The art work makes me think that Bethany House (BH) considers the audience for this series to be female romance readers. While it's true there are a couple of key romances in the saga, I would not classify it as a romantic fantasy. The Library of Congress agrees as evidenced by their classification on the novel's copyright page: "1. Kings and rulers - Fiction. 2. Coronations - Fiction." Since buyers inevitably do judge a book by its cover, I think BH is unnecessarily (and perhaps unwittingly) limiting the potential audience for this series.

For example, Abramm's epic includes gladiator fights, kraggin killing, dragon slaying, slave trading, seafaring, and political intrigue - all adventures that could appeal to a male audience. But how many men would pick up a book with a pretty blond boy on the cover? I also find it odd that Abramm's tell-tale scar - which is his clear identifying mark throughout the saga, so much so that when he is believed dead, several "pretenders," including his own brother, cut their own faces in order to mimic his twin scars - is not visible in the cover image.

Please note this is not a critique of the book. It is actually a lament that more readers may not find the saga because of a misleading cover campaign.

As with all great series, I hate to see this one come to an end. Even after some 1,600 pages. That's a testament to the exciting world Hancock has created. Without revealing the ending, I can say that readers will leave these shores satisfied that the story has been told in its entirety. But that doesn't mean we won't miss reading more of these captivating legends...

Heather R. HuntHeather R. Hunt is a business editor in Connecticut. For fun she reads, writes, cheers on the Red Sox, and enjoys tennis and cycling. She also co-leads a local tea party and enjoys holding government officials and media outlets accountable. Check out her blogs, The View from Stonewater and Connecticut for Sarah Palin.