By: E.G. Radcliff
Publisher: Mythic Prairie Books
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
I saw a post on Twitter that asked, “How old do you have to be to stop reading young adult books?” I didn’t answer, but I probably should have. You are never too old to read a book that you enjoy. If it’s a good book, does it matter if it’s a young adult book? There are so many young adult fantasy books that have wonderful characters, world building and an overall message for any reader.
One series I discovered was The Coming of Aed (pronounced “Aid”). I thoroughly enjoyed the first 2 books in the series, The Hidden King and The Last Prince. Normally I would be writing a review on a complete series, as I would rather do them as a whole than to take each one separately. There is another book coming out, but not until next year, so I thought it would be better to get readers excited about this series and read it in time for when the next book is published. The Last Prince is actually a prequel, but read them in the order that the author has published them, it works very well.
As I mentioned, I want to write spoiler-free reviews. I also don’t summarize a book, I just give a basic background. You can read a summary on the book cover. To me, a review is not a summary of the book. It’s about character development, interactions, and because I am doing fantasy that involves world building, how well that it is done. What is it that will pull you in to the world the author has created?
I also want to comment on how beautiful the covers are for these books. The Hidden King has the flaming crown, and when you look closely, you can see a Celtic symbol in the background. A crescent symbol with Celtic designs also appeared on the Last Prince. A flaming bird appears in the foreground. Once I started reading it, I knew why the bird was there. The lettering appearing singed where the flames have touched them. Beautifully simple, yet conveys much about the story.
In The Hidden King, after tragedy strikes, Aed and his “family” need to leave behind the life of starvation, poverty and danger. He heads out of the “Maze”, the poor city they live in, to the White City, a shining white city on the cliffs. Even though the dangers of leaving are very real. They do not even know if anyone is in the White City, as no one from the Maze has ever been there. To protect his family, he knows they must leave. He must risk everything to give them a better life, and those risks are very real. Getting out of the Maze is dangerous, how will they travel, what will they find in the White City, and would they be welcome? It is a wonderful, fascinating journey that has twists and turns that will keep you enthralled.
In The Last Prince, the focus is on 2 members of the family, Ninnian (Nin) and Aed. Ninnian is an 11-year-old orphan living on the streets of the Maze. The Maze is run by territorial gangs. Ninnian survives by stealing food when he can and sleeping in empty tenements. He is caught stealing food from a shopkeeper, Maell who tells him he can keep the food, but he must pay him back. Ninnian, even at the young age of 11, displays an affinity for being able to fight and is unwittingly sold into a gang. However, he knows he can make money by fighting and pay back Maell. In the meantime, Maell has found Aed. His hands are badly broken and damaged and he will not speak. When Maell asks Ninnian to spend time with him, Aed opens up to Ninnian, and Ninnian opens up to Aed. It is a story of not just the dangers that Ninnian faces in the gang, but the bonds of friendship that heal.
Celtic imagery is a major part of both books. The names are Celtic as are much of the celebrations and superstitions. I love Celtic lore and art, and that also attracted my to reading the series.
The Maze and The White City
This is essentially the world where The Coming of Aed takes place. What I really found interesting about this was the 2 very distinct cities. The Maze is poverty stricken, dirty, people starve, and it’s very dangerous. There is very little else. The few who can carve out a decent living are shopkeepers like Maell and the gang leaders. No one dares try to leave the Maze. As I was reading the books, I could feel the despair and hopelessness of the people who lived there. People keep to themselves out of fear. Orphans are so common that no one spares them a second thought. It made me think of the city that I live near. Walking around and seeing the homeless that most people walk by as if they were invisible. I kept thinking about that as I read the book against the backdrop of the Maze. The place is depressing-and you feel it. When you read a book and feel those emotions, then you know it’s written very well.
The White City is the exact opposite. It’s clean, no poverty, people walk about without fear-it’s what the Maze is not. E.G Radcliff did a great job with how she built this world that Aed lives in. The 2 distinct and opposite cities clearly show the wealth and class disparity. People from the Maze (or Smudge as it is called in the White City) are not allowed in the White City. They have been told the Maze is full of barbarians. Most people are unaware of what exists there-the poverty and starvation. There is no need to think about it when you have all that you need.
Aed and Ninnian: It’s very hard to separate the two characters and they are so intwined together. We meet Ninnian when he is 11 and Aed is about the same age. Both are broken. Aed is broken not just physically, but emotionally. He has no memory of his past, but it is clear that he was abused. Ninnian bears the emotional scars of living on the streets, starving for days and trying to find a place to sleep. He also harbors memories of abuse. Neither of them trusts anyone. Aed will not speak, even to Maell who has taken him in and is tending his wounds. When Maell asks Ninnian to try and speak to him, Aed remains silent, staring at nothing. Ninnian talks to him and finally gets up to leave. Aed whispers his name to him.
It is from this point we see a brilliantly written friendship from E.G. Radcliff that blossoms between Aed and Ninnian. They heal each other by sharing the sorrows of their past and come to rely on the bond they have formed to keep each other whole. Neither is whole without the other, and they form a family together. I felt that the 2 characters almost became one, even with their distinct personalities. As we see them develop, Aed becomes more light hearted. Ninnian is still bound to the gang and is still fighting to make money for them to live. Ninnian is the person you would meet with a tough exterior, but with a soft, caring heart. Aed is a gentle soul and they complement each other perfectly. Aed seems to have an inner power he doesn’t understand nor where it comes from. I will leave it there as I don’t want to have any spoilers.
This beautiful story of Ninnian and Aed becomes a beacon of hope for the reader-that there is hope among the backdrop of the horrors of living in the Maze. The hope that love and family can survive anything, and we know that Ninnian and Aed will do anything for each other.
They are very well-developed characters. From not speaking and trusting, Aed becomes a kind, gentle man. Despite how they live, he laughs and jokes with Ninnian. Though Ninnian tends to be more serious given his work for the gang, he transforms when he is with Aed. Aed brings out the gentle side of Ninnian and when they are together, you almost forget how they are living in the Maze.
Ronan: Ronan is the orphan that Aed and Ninnian take in and he completes their family. They love him as a son and protect him as such. He worries about Aed and Ninnian as he knows what they have to do to make money. He does not want to leave the Maze and go to the White City. Even though the Maze is horrible place to live, it is the only home he knows. His reaction to leaving is very realistic. Any child would be upset and frightened about leaving the only home they know. I hope we will see more of Ronan in the third book and see him develop further.
Boudicca: Boudicca lives in the White City. When they enter the city, the family is chased by the White City Army. Starving, tired and dirty, she takes in the family. She lives alone and is willing to take in strangers from the Smudge, knowing that it is illegal. I love how E.G. Radcliffe introduced her in The Hidden King. She is not only kind, but she is a strong female character. It’s a nice counterpart to the male characters in the books. Boudicca knows nothing about the Smudge and is genuinely surprised to found out about the horrible living conditions they have come from. She is selfless and giving, and becomes very protective of the family. I think they complemented her need for taking care of people. It wasn’t written as the female “need for a family” trope. Boudicca is what she is-kind, caring, gentle and tough when she needs to be. She has no problem standing up to her brother, who is head of the White City army. As her character develops and she learns more about the family she has taken in, she really becomes a part of them. It wasn’t forced, it was perfectly natural.
There are many other characters, but these were the most important to me. There is a third book coming out next year, so we will have to wait and see how the family survives and what awaits them in the White City.
I highly recommend this series. It is a beautifully crafted story. I would give them both a 5/5 stars. Even though the genre is young adult, I know everyone will love to read this series.
The big takeaway-love is love.