The Silver Talon, an epic fantasy by A.J. Cunder


Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (5/11/11) 

What does one need for a highly enjoyable fantasy epic? Well, let me see… There are certainly many possible elements, but let us start with the obvious: forces of good and forces of evil. In the case of “The Silver Talon” we can immediately place a checkmark next to those. What next? Hmmm, decidedly some non-human beings… Elves, dwarves, Morgats… No doubt those are present as well. Mythical animals? Will dragons, able to communicate in a telepathic way with their riders, do? I thought so, and Guardus is one of the best dragons I’ve encountered in the fantasy genre lately. What else? Fair maidens, rescued from villains? Check. Oppressed masses? Check. A brave young man, pure of heart? Check again. Bravery, treachery, sorcery, magic spells, epic battles, deception and true friendship? Trust me, you will find all of those and so much more in A.J. Cunder’s “The Silver Talon.”

While I usually prefer a bit gentler, more girly fantasy books, I found myself enjoying “The Silver Talon” immensely. The tale of the young Arius, an apprentice to Lodus, the merchant, who finds himself fighting the ultimate evil with only his dragon Guardus and a small band of friends for support, drew me in quickly. And it kept my attention riveted for many hours to come. I tend to be wary of very long books. Most authors can’t keep my interest for much more than 300 pages, and “The Silver Talon” happens to be over 450 pages long. Yet my interest in the story did not diminish. The more I read, the more I wanted to know about Farahdin and its many inhabitants. And A.J. Cunder consistently delivered a gripping, tight story, as well as one with more layers than what was evident at first. Lodus was not just a simple merchant. Who exactly was Kyra? What was the evil sorcerer Contemno’s deepest secret?

While the writing was somewhat terse at points, I found that appropriate for a story about a warrior and a dragon. Anything more flowery would probably be out of place, and although sometimes sparse, the descriptions of characters, scenery and events were vivid and brilliantly sharp. The dialogue flowed, the two languages invented by the author (a derivative of Old Elvish, called The Forgotten Language, and the Dwarwish) added an additional touch of otherworldly charm, and even the font used for the titles of the chapters was charmingly old-fashioned.  I was completely under the spell of this book, and then came my biggest discovery yet. The author, A.J. Cunder, was sixteen-years-old when he wrote it! Now seventeen, he is about to go to college, but in the little note about the author at the very end of the book he assured his readers that this will not stop him from working on the sequel to “The Silver Talon.” I certainly hope so, since I found this to be a very well written book by an unusually talented young author. I highly recommend “The Silver Talon” to any lover of fantasy epics, regardless of the reader’s age.

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Review by Kirkus Discoveries, November 3, 2010:

Cunder’s debut is a fantasy bildungsroman that chronicles the journey of the young Arius and his dragon through a once-happy land.

In the mystical land of Farahdin, before our young hero Arius is born, the evil Contemno, with magical powers that can make any skeptic disappear in a puff of blackness, stages a bloody coup and ascends to the throne.

 Once in power, the megalomaniac not only instills fear in his subjects, but he installs creepy portraits of himself in every one of his reluctant subjects’ homes. It is in this tyrannical, dystopian environment that young Arius is born. His parents die a mysterious and vaguely heroic death in the prologue, just tantalizing enough to whet readers’ appetites.

When the narrative proper begins, Arius is hawking daggers under the care and tutelage of a man named Lodus, a living compendium of local lore and legend. He regales the young Arius with stories of elves and the lost world of the dragons, which Arius takes as only the entertainments of an old man. But there’s not too much exposition before Arius’ greater destiny comes calling.

It’s well-trodden territory in the genre, but Cunder’s lively prose and the pleasure of his interwoven narratives—one chapter in Arius’ present and the next charting Contemno’s rise to wickedness—are as sophisticated as they are easily accessible, with only occasional flourishes of purple prose that seem endemic to the fantasy genre. Indeed, it’s really a book tailored to please the pleasure centers of the fantasy addict, and rarely does it diverge from the archetypal steps the genre demands.

However, this adherence to convention is the book’s strength as it doesn’t flail about in avant-garde meanderings. Once the plot starts moving, it rarely lets up and the revelations abound. The final (or is it?) denouement might be rushed a bit too vigorously considering all the build up, but the final battle with Contemno and Arius’ new knowledge of his family history sets the stage for continuation.

A smart, pleasing, unpretentious fantasy that is only the opening movement of a planned series. 


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