Aisling Book One: Guardian


Title: Aisling Book One: Guardian
Author: Carole Cummings
Publisher: Prizm
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**

BLURB

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.

Aisling Trilogy

REVIEW

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 🙂

OVERALL

41 comments

  • “Aisling: The Guardian” is the beginning of a marvelous epic story about a fascinating world and the engaging and complex characters, and deities, which populate that world. And the best part is that everyone has the two remaining books in the Aisling story to look forward to this year.

    The author doesn’t waste our time introducing her world in intricate detail. Instead, she sits us down in the story and allows us to find out, just like Dallin, what the heck is going on and where the heck we are. The world has the flavor of ours, pre-Industrial Revolution, but there is obviously more going on here that science and logic can explain – there are deities, but, as with all deities, they are rather obscure, vague in their teachings, and pre-occupied, and there is magic, but as with all magic, it can go either way – dark or light. As with everything else in her work, the author doesn’t hit you over the head with these things – the religion and the magic are part and parcel of the world. Clearly, we are going to find out more about this fascinating world as the characters and the story reveal it.

    But the author’s absolute strength is her characterization. The two main characters – Dallin and Wil – are extremely well drawn and very authentic in their interactions with each other, based on the author’s representation of their history and experience. The secondary characters are also very strong. I particularly loved the fact that, in this world, it is understood that women can play key roles and still be female. And I adore Wil, of course. One of the author’s obvious strengths is the way she can portray a truly tormented character without making him a caricature. Wil is complex – childlike in his reactions to some things, and an old tormented soul in reaction to others. Add to this his skill, learned in the most horrific of circumstances, of playing whatever role will allow him to survive, and Wil is an extremely complex and appealing character. Watching Dallin learn to understand Wil – to understand and trust his own instincts about Wil – is fascinating. And the book ends on the perfect note – Dallin has already extended his support and trust to Wil before he really comprehends the role intended for him by those obscure deities I mentioned before. And so we wait for the next installment.

    Bravo! And here’s to many more from this author!

    Reply
    • I particularly loved the fact that, in this world, it is understood that women can play key roles and still be female.

      I loved this about the story as well. I’m betting that you’re thinking of both Miri and the no-nonsense Sheriff, both of whom I loved.

      One of the author’s obvious strengths is the way she can portray a truly tormented character without making him a caricature.

      and

      Watching Dallin learn to understand Wil – to understand and trust his own instincts about Wil – is fascinating.

      These were two of my favorite things as well 🙂

      Thanks for posting your thoughts Donna!

      Reply
  • This is not a book I’ll probably pick up because I’m not sure it’s not something I would like (I’m not so much for fantasies), BUT your review is wonderful, Cole. It was a pleasure reading that alone. 🙂

    Reply
    • There’s no shame in that Lynn! Plus, we can’t be just alike 😉

      Thanks for the smooth compliment though, I’ll never turn down one of those!

      Reply
  • I’d downloaded “Guardian” a while ago, based on a friend’s recommendation, but I forgot about it until I saw your review. So, thanks for the reminder and a great review! 🙂

    Reply
  • This sounds like a great book. Every time I read a 5-star review, I want to read the book immediately. This is wreaking havoc with my TBR list. 🙂 I’ve been reading lots of contemporaries. I think I’m ready for something different and this book sounds like just the right one.

    Reply
    • Patty, I really think you’ll love this one. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but I believe that this is even a book that those who aren’t so much into paranormals would like.

      I’ve been doing the opposite! I’ve been reading so many paranormals that I need a good contemporary to settle down with 🙂

      I’d love to know what you think when you read it!

      Reply
      • Cole, I like paranormals, too. That’s my problem: I like many sub-genres. My TBR pile is an island and rapidly growing into a large-ish continent.

        I finished reading Wave’s rec, Boys of Summer and Taking You Home, and Buda’s recommended book The Trap. Let’s see, over the holidays I read 72 Hours by Clare London and and many Christmas anthologies and Josh Lanyon mysteries. I can highly recommend all of those contemporaries! 🙂

        Reply
        • Yay! I’m so glad to hear that. I have 72 Hours, Taking You Home, and The Trap locked loaded and ready to go! I’m glad to hear you liked them 🙂

          Although, I’ve been dying to read The Trap so I think I’ll start with that one first!

          Reply
  • Hmm…not being the world`s most patient person I shall check this out once the second book comes out. Sounds interesting.

    Reply
    • Its and incredible book and you won’t have to wait very long! Also, this was a 300+ page book and I read it in one sitting, staying up all night because I just couldn’t put it down. So it might be smart to wait for the sequel!

      Reply
  • If you read back to back, don’t plan on doing anything else in that block of time, because you WILL NOT want to put the books down. I agree with Cole’s excellently stated assessment — the world building unfolds naturally and organically, and so do the revelations about the men. It’s really beautifully assembled, and the division between the books well chosen. Guardian is easily one of the best books I’ve read in the last year, of any genre.

    Reply
    • Thanks! You are so right though, it is very beautifully assembled. Either Ms. Cummings has an excellent talent for these things or a whole hell of a lot of work went into the organization of these books, because they just blossomed open like a flower. And I felt rewarded because I was able to help peel back the petals.

      This is definitely going to be one of my top books of the year!

      Reply
  • I think this is another one where I need to wait for at least a second book to be released, just so I can read back-to-back. LOL

    Thanks for the review, Cole! 🙂

    ~Tis

    Reply
    • Hey Tis! Thats a good idea because I really wished I could read the sequel straight away. At least we only have to wait until March!

      Reply
  • I love, love, love this book (if people want, they can read just how much here). Will is one of the best characters I’ve read about in a long, long time. He is so tortured and damaged and still so strong – he pulled at all my heartstrings. I just can’t express enough how wonderful these characters are and I can’t wait for more interaction with the bad guys, because I have a feeling they’ll be just as magnificent as Will and Dallin.

    I just wanted to say to those interested in reading this story that they will not have to wait for long – this was originally one book, but it was too long to be published at once. It was divided in three books and the sequels will be published in March and June (or July, I always forget). The lack of sex in the books will be rectified in the future books as well, Ms. Cummings said. 🙂

    I have to borrow Wave’s and Aunt Lynn’s line here – run, don’t walk to buy this book.

    Reply
    • Wait Wait Wait!! There’s going to be some sex?! Damn, I really can’t wait until March and June (her website says June) now! Where did you hear about all that — the stuff about it being one book and the coming sex 🙂 Her blog? I’d love to go and read about it.

      Wil is one of the most amazingly drawn characters I’ve ever read because he is and isn’t mired in his fate. I think the quote I added to my review says it well: “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…”

      I also can’t wait until we meet (I can’t remember his name off the top of my head) Wil’s captor in person. He will be VERY interesting, I know it 🙂

      Thanks so much LadyM!

      Reply
      • First the most important thing – sex. 😀 She commented on a review on goodreads – the reviewer complained that there was no sexual interest between the characters and she said that will be rectified in Book Two. (Let me just say – YES! I think Dalling will be an amazing lover.) I think I’ve read about one book in her LiveJournal – she said the most difficult thing was coming up with three new titles. XD

        *sigh* There’s still a month and a half until March.

        Reply
        • It is the most important thing! 🙂 Seriously though, whoever wrote that the characters have no sexual interest is wacko because I thought that their interactions were dripping with sexual tension!

          Yes, March can’t come quickly enough!

          Reply
  • oh wow, a series that can own up to “Nightrunner” – I have to read this!
    Thank you for the review, Cole. This little piece of dialogue was really intriguing.

    Reply
    • I hope I don’t regret saying that! I love the Nightrunner books, and whether or not the plot lives up to your expectations (to some it will and some it won’t, just like any story), I think the writing is incredible!

      Did you read the excerpt? That was one of my favorite pieces in the book, right near the beginning. It set the tone for the whole book and I wanted to post some of it in my review, but I think its much better that I didn’t chop it up (because its way too long for being in the review).

      I’d love to hear what you think, Feliz!

      Reply

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26, male, gay, baker, knitter, sometimes writer, and voracious reader of all things | contact me: cole.riann[at]gmail.com
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