Here it is nearing the end of February and I have finally begun to actually make progress on the backlog of books. With the last book post I finished up the titles that were read last month. Okay, I know it’s kind of sad that things got that far behind and all. It could be worse though and up to this point I am happy with how things are progressing both here on the blog and the reading challenge set for the year. The book up for review today is one that had been in my library for quite some time. With a very average rating on both Good Reads and Amazon I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into with Through the Wildwood which is part of a much larger saga called the Legends of Vanx Malic. For some reason I had collected up a large portion of the series either as freebie promos or super cheap before I had even read anything by M. R. Mathias. I am not even sure why I had, but here we are taking a look how things stack up.
Vanx is definitely not the typical character or hero thrust into situations of his own making. Being half human and half Zythian he has abilities that set him apart from fitting in fully with either. He is a wandering bard who tends to get himself into trouble on a regular basis. By this I mean big trouble as he gets in too deep with the Duke of Highland’s wife. Vanx gets made by the Duke and sent off with a band of slavers only to find out this was a set up for him and the other to get killed off. The twist here is the Duchess sends her daughter to buy back Vanx. Which I might suggest never actually happens. Following the failed bandit attack he and a small group including Highland’s daughter, a blacksmith apprentice, a one-handed prostitute, a wizard, and the girls lover. In the process of escaping they find themselves making their way through the Wildwood. They end up with the most unlikely of allies, Kobalds, as they are sucked into a bloody battle with the Ogres trying to take some sort of rock from the wizard called a blood stone. While making their way through the woods the girl get poisoned by a plant with only one possible cure. Something I’ll make you find out on your own, but it more than sets up the second book which requires Vanx to become a hero if he wants to save her.
I have read a lot of fantasy stories over the years and you can usually pinpoint the typical tropes. Mathias definitely uses them here, but usually with a slightly different twist. Very few of the characters are technically “good” from a moral stand point. Vanx by far is one of the most flawed characters who actually wants to do the right thing, but doesn’t always actually go through with it. Personally I was glad to see that he had internal conflicts to overcome that made Vanx more relatable. Sometimes the hero of a story is just too good and can’t do anything wrong. Here we have a guy that gets himself into trouble repeatedly. In the end he must decide if his life is more important than the others of his most unlikely band of characters. In the end I found myself routing for Vanx which is a good sign for the rest of the series.
There are a couple of things I must put out there as I wrap things up here. First, this is not a book for young innocent readers. The opening scene has Vanx in a compromising situation of getting caught with his pants down – quite literally as he is busy having a good time with the Dukes wife. There are also several occasions where the blacksmith apprentice and the prostitute are having sex as well. If you don’t mind this sort of thing it won’t bother you. None of these scenes are distracting from the story. In the case of Vanx it is the primary reason for the story and the events that take place after. There are also plenty of blood and guts moments, nice magic use, political intrigue, and hidden lover troubles that make for a fun and engaging story. If you can’t handle bloody battles this might not be for you. There are several of them that get pretty graphic with plenty of carnage to go around. By the end Vanx goes from a naughty bard to prisoner and ultimately the reluctant hero.
Overall, Through the Wildwood was a good story with an interesting cast of characters. Mathias has created good beginning for the series to continue from here. The world was solid, the magic system was good, and the personalities of the races were interesting enough to see there is an underlying history for the world building to continue. There was some roughness to the writing that I can see resolving itself as Mathias continues to white more of the legends. Personally I didn’t mind the rough edges to the story and it wasn’t too distracting. As a reader I want to be engaged with the story and the characters as they grow. Mathias achieved that in spades. There is a lot more going on behind the scenes that I think will make their way into the story one way or another as the Legend of Vanx Malic continues. I already have plans for reading the next story once I finish off my next set of books.