Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin
Fantasy sometimes gets a bad rap, but good fantasy ushers us through the hearts and minds of beings we can identify and sympathize with because it’s driven by the human condition. Affected by forces both benevolent and evil, the protagonist often fights to restore justice. Exceptional fantasy is a keystone, offering us insight, adventure, and escape while leaving us better people in its wake. Way of the Argosi is such a book.
To put it in its place, Way of the Argosi is a prequel to de Castell’s Spellslinger series and branded Young Adult Fantasy; though as is the case with most YA, this book will be as well-received as Lord of the Rings by adult readers. And good news, a sequel, Fall of the Argosi, is on its way.
Sebastien de Castell (this is his real name by the way) introduces us to an extraordinary orphan. Following the dark path of the mythic Hero’s Journey, first conceived by Joseph Campbell, eleven-year-old Ferius Parfax sets out alone after her tribe is massacred by a band of mages. This is a book about power, politics, and genocide and, most importantly, how to not only survive against adversity but change the world for the better. Ferius’s people, the Mahdek are the victims in this vicious war.
Along the way, Ferius meets Durrall Brown, a “meddling frontier philosopher” who is in my humble opinion, one of the greatest characters ever written. Durrall Argos, the man in brown, is a cowboy Buddhist who carries a razor-sharp Tarot deck that can cut you as easily as cure you. Brown instructs Ferius, and us, in the Way of the Argosi. Are you hooked yet?
This is a beautifully produced book with a stunning Tarot card cover that features mirrored images of Ferius Parfax and Durrall Brown. Other intricate full-size black and white images drawn by Sally Taylor separate philosophical sections. And there is a detailed map that reminds me of Ireland, as all maps do. Skip the e-book and buy this book in print. It’s a keeper and one you will return to read again and again if only to learn to be a better human being and savour the feel of slipping inside a velvet cloak by a fire on a rainy day.
Sebastien de Castell’s lyrical prose, brilliant world-building, and exceptional dialogue will keep you turning pages long after your candles have burnt low. “I was tired of living like a wandering ghost, punished by the sight of the hideous, scrawny, sexless creature I glimpsed in grimy pools of street water. I wanted to be clean again” (65). I hear echoes of Tolkien and Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Another bonus is that de Castell was a fencing choreographer; something evident in the cracking fight scenes that take us directly into the fighter’s mind. Did I say I love this book?
Here you will enter a society like many in Earth’s history where cultures exterminate cultures only to be wiped out themselves. But within the violence are those who illustrate compassion, courage, and wisdom; those who walk with the Way of Water.
Published by Hot Key Books (an imprint of Bonnier Books).