Golden Age by James Maxwell
4 ½ Stars out of 5
Picture the Ancient Mediterranean world: the City-States of Greece, the Empire of Egypt, etc. Now add sea serpents, dragons, and other fantastical beings. That is the world of James Maxwell’s Golden Age, the first of his Shifting Tides trilogy. It is not quite alternative history and not exactly a traditional fantasy novel. It more a hybrid. And that is what probably makes it so much fun to read.
The novel opens with an earthquake in the city-state of Phalesia. The citizens are aided in the rescue and recovery efforts by a shape-shifting being that is barely tolerated.
Soon, the physical earthquake is followed by a cultural earthquake when a large warship from the Ilean Empire, ruled by Solon, appears in the harbor having been damaged by the same earthquake. Before long, the commander of the ship, Kagan, kidnaps Chloe, daughter of the Phalesia’s first citizen. The Phalesian government is hesitant to declare war on Ilea recognizing 1) the technological superiority of the Ilean warships and 2) Phalesia lacks a strong military.
Fortunately, Dion, second son of the King of the neighboring state, Xthanos just arrived in Phalesia and undertakes to rescue Chloe. Dion also realizes the danger Solon presents to Xthanos and the other city states. Taking a small craft, Dion sets out across the sea.
Chloe, upon arriving in Solon’s capital discovers the Emperor is building a vast pyramid covered in gold. This is, the Emperor tells her, is to ease his passage into the next world. And Solon will take gold from everywhere and everyone to accomplish his task, including Phalesia. Dion following Chloe discovers the strength of the Emperor’s Navy and its plans to conquer the other side of the sea.
From there, the story picks up speed as the reader learns more of the world and dangerous shape-shifters and the war once waged between them and humans.
The novel is very good. The characters are well fleshed out and each has his/her own motivations and desires. None of them feel cardboard or just filler, including those who only appear briefly. The narrative is well paced. It slowly builds up the momentum as the stories of Chloe and Dion are two separate strands that slowly weave together. But, by the end of the story, the tale speeds towards it conclusion like a boulder rolling down hill. But this is not to suggest the ending is rushed. Indeed the momentum the reader feels is the natural pace of the tale. While it is the first of a trilogy, the Golden Age is a complete story with a proper ending. In fact, I didn’t realize it was the first of a new series until I read the author’s afterward.
If you’re considering this for younger readers while there is romance, there is no sex. The only caveat is the violence tends to pick up as the story reaches full speed and the last few chapters; it really ramps up to “11”.
I enjoyed it and am eagerly awaiting the sequel, The Silver Road.
(**Note: I have an Amazon Prime account. As one of the benefits of the having said account, Amazon’s First Selection offers me a choice of one of the four books to own for free. That is how I obtained Golden Age. This has no bearing on the review other than I had promised that I would tell you, the reader when I reviewed a book I did not purchase.)
(Update: This was supposed to have gone live this past Sunday. I don’t know why it didn’t.)