Title: Aisling Book One: Guardian
Author: Carole Cummings
Buy Link: Buy Link (Second Edition)
Genre: LGBTQ Young Adult, Historical, M/M Paranormal
Length: Novel (339 pdf pages)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Cole
Review Summary: An incredible start to a series that was imaginative, had very strong and well-drawn characters, and had me on the edge of my seat, both from the action in the plot and the fine line Dallin and Wil walk in each other’s presence.
**This review contains what might be considered spoilers**
Constable Dallin Brayden knows who he is, what he’s about, and he doesn’t believe in Fate. ‘Wilfred Calder’ has no idea who he is, what he’s about, and has been running from Fate for as long as he can remember. When Wil is brought in for questioning as a witness to a brutal murder, and subsequently flees, Dallin is dragged by duty into the chaos of ancient myth, fanatical religion, and the delicate politics of a shaky truce between two perpetually warring countries, all of which seem to hinge on the slender shoulders of the man he knows is not Wilfred Calder.
The eventual capture of Dallin’s quarry only makes matters worse. Wil is prickly and full of rage, rebellious and lethal, and tells an unbelievable tale of magic and betrayal that threatens to rock the carefully cultivated foundations of Dallin’s world. Leery and only half-believing, Dallin finds himself questioning not only his own conscience and his half-forgotten past, but the morality and motives of everyone around him, including those who hold the power of his own country’s fate in their hands.
The Mother created the Aisling to Dream the threads of man and the Father created the Guardian to guard against his power. Or did he? How much influence do those around us, as well as those who govern over us have to shape and mold our beliefs? And when we’re cultivated to their ideal, how does that war against our own sense of self and reason? These are the questions posed in this novel about warring political factions, the two people they are warring over, and the beliefs that they hold so sacred they are no longer belief but fact. On a closer level, this is a novel about what happens to the psyche of a man who has been chained to his fate. Conversely, it is also about the healing powers of love, trust, and a deep sense of self.
Dallin Brayden is called in by his friend and superior to question a young man who has been brought in as a witness to a brutal murder. The chief tells him that apparently the two men were fighting over this man, who unlike all of the countries residents, has dark hair and green eyes. Dallin is to question the man, find out who he is and if there was any magic involved, as they all believe the young man might have put the two men under a trance. Magic is illegal and closely policed, and as Dallin questions the man, who says his name is Wil Calder, he knows immediately that the young man is lying. He is also strangely attracted to him. But he is an honorable man and he knows what his job is — to get answers. But Wil is not playing along and not only does he seem to be skilled in manipulating people, but Dallin can also see that Wil Calder is desperate. But for what, he doesn’t know.
After being released, Wil goes back on the run, using what little money he has to help him along his way. He has been running from two different factions of government, the Brethren and the Guild, for three years now, and even he doesn’t know how he’s gotten away — only with desperation to do whatever he needs to do to survive, he supposes. But he has someone on his tail, the Brethren, who are ruthless in pursuing their quarry, and behind them, that damn Constable Brayden, who has no idea who he is, but who is the most dangerous man to him there is, even more dangerous than all of the governments who are pursuing him.
Soon, at a roadside inn, all factions confront each other and the first real battle of this series is underway.
I want to say, first off, that if the subsequent books to be released in this series are as good as this first installment, I believe that this series will go on to be one of the great series that people remember. There are certainly series that everyone knows and loves (for example, the Nightrunner Series by Lynn Flewellyn), that have grown in popularity because of the time in which they were written or other outside influences. As a fan of that series and many like it, I can say that the writing and the characters are just as good as those, and if this series can gain the kind of readership that those types have, this story will be a huge success. There is no sex in this book. It is a YA book that is rated 14+, so I wasn’t expecting it. However, it is about two gay characters, and just their interactions are very steamy at times.
The major focus of this story is the world building, and it grows very organically. There is no info-dump. In fact, I believe that the opposite is true here. We are forced to put the pieces of this story together ourselves — forced to keep up with the story, as what one believes to be a fairy tale and another considers fact merge together with a cold war (that is fast becoming a real one) and a spark of what will soon become a revolution. We aren’t even sure of who our two characters are until two-thirds of the story has passed. This was done very well and it added a whole new ingredient to the dialogue between Wil and Dallin, which was the best part of the story. Because we don’t know exactly who our main characters really are (and both of them don’t know everything about who they are either), their dialogue becomes the most imporant clue to the reader. It shows us who they are at their core before we are told what their roles are, what others have ordained for them. By the time we figure out what those roles are, we already know what kind of people they both are, what they want and need, what they will do for freedom and what they will sacrifice, and just how steely their strength is to survive. Dallin puts it best in his own words as he’s describing Wil here (the first paragraph is about what Dallin found in Wil’s pack when he examined it — the mention of Lind is about the death of Dallin’s mother and whole village when he was a child):
The content itself was interesting, and worthy of thought and study. The bits of tin, a little bit of nonlethal self-defense for someone who probably needed to practice it daily, nestled right next to leaves selected and stored because they were ‘pretty’. If there was a starker contrast to lay bare what a man lived as opposed to what a man was, Dallin didn’t know of it. He’d guessed it fairly quickly and early on, but those two items put it in plain terms in a tangible way: this was a man who took hold of every bit of life that passed within his desperate grasp, and if you left him to it, you’d likely get a timid smile and a polite nod of the head before he harmlessly skirted about you and scuttled off; but if you fucked with him, he’d tear your throat out for it.
He’d shown no remorse or discomfort at having turned a man’s head into porridge, but Dallin believed him when he’d said he would have prevented Lind. He’d nearly wept relieved tears when Dallin had told him they would stop at Garson’s for lunch so he could see Miri, that she was fine, no attacks out this way. Yet Dallin knew Wil had used those scraps of tin before, could easily see the metal wound about those long fingers, curled into a tight fist. There was a line somewhere, between using brutality to survive, and just brutality, and Wil walked it according to his own moral compass—stepped back and forth across that line easily and without so much as blinking.
The story is gritty at times, as well as violent. When Dallin and Wil are forced to kill, Carole Cummings does not skirt the issue or make light of what they need to do to survive, but the story is never overindulgent in violence. All of it had its place, particularly showing the damage that has been done to Wil in the past and how it has affected him. This is a particularly difficult review to write because there are alot of different threads to this story that are being woven together and this is really the setup to what will later become the main story. All I can tell you is that the writing is superb. This is a book that, for those who love it as much as I did, will warrant many further reads just to enjoy the beautiful and very poignant prose (the sentence above is one of my favorites — “If there was a starker contrast to lay bare…”). The portraits drawn — even the secondary characters could have walked off of the page.
Though there are paranormal elements, the story is really about Wil and Dallin. Fans of paranormal series with political, pedagogical, or religious aspects will love this book. It is at times a heavy story, with violence and with the brainpower required of the reader to engage with the story — this is no sit-back-and-enjoy beach read. Those who have difficulty with violence may not enjoy this book. I wholeheartedly recommend this one and I am eagerly awaiting the relase of Aisling (Book Two) in March.
The excerpt of this book made available on Carole Cummings’ website is a very good example of what I have highlighted about the book (especially the beautiful dialogue) and is what made me want to read the story in the first place. It is a good place to start if you’re unsure about reading this story as it outlines one of the best bits of dialogue between the two, so strong that I believe this story could be a play. You can find it here. I can’t wait to hear what those of you have read this book thought (you know who you are!), so please reply and tell me what you thought 🙂