by Zachary Jernigan
On the warring continent of Jeroun exists two dominant beliefs: those who bask in the God's benevolence and those who believe in his eventual wrath. Our hero is the latter. A member of the Black Suits, Vedas' sole purpose is to fight the White Suits who oppose his order's belief and convert those to the Anadrashi faith. History has proven the God’s disdain for humanity, and for Vedas, that gives him all the more reason to fight, though a lifetime of training meant to prepare him for battle unexpectedly falls short when a pupil of his dies. Grief-stricken, his position becomes unclear—marked with question over the meaning his life—until he is chosen to represent his order in the great fighting tournament of Danoor -- and by doing so, proclaim to the world that their God is not merciful.
No Return is one of those books I find hard to review. As a writer, I am complete enthralled by its world-building and the skilled turns of phrase Jernigan is able to pull. As a reader, I was instantly pulled in by the imagery of a god hovering over His world—physical in every respect to those on the planet below, and whose judgment can be swayed by the simplest of actions. This is, undoubtedly, high fantasy, though that may be the novel's greatest weakness. Oftentimes, the author presents and then develops his characters through the use of time jumps that deviate from a traditional linear narrative – which, combined with a complex history and a cast whose surroundings sometimes never intersect, may deter readers unfamiliar with high fantasy from picking the novel up. Does it have a map? Yes. Does it have an atlas? Yes. Even I will admit that my transition into the novel was somewhat daunting, though the grand exposé immediately detailed in the prologue eventually proves its necessity as we enter the meatier portions of the story. It isn’t long before we understand the plight of the people on this lonely planet, of their harsh world and the unforgiving god who floats above it—who, at any moment, could wipe the planet clean, if only out of boredom. That, undoubtedly, is No Return’s crowning achievement. You feel a sense of awe as locations of impossible magnitude are described, wonder as its geography is revealed, terror over the monsters (human and not) that walk the lands and unease over the world’s complex and harrowing history. This, combined with a diverse cast of characters whose roles are not determined by gender, race or sexual orientation, makes Jernigan’s entry into the genre a breath of a fresh air.
No Return is a remarkable epic among the casual fare of sword and sorcery novels. While not for everyone, if only due to its unprecedented but lavish world, presents fantasy with a gritty realism I feel the genre is unfortunately lacking. Five stars to an excellent first novel, and a beginning that only promises future marvel.
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Reviewer's notation: I received No Return for review from the author.