Boy of Dreams by Nathan Van Hoff

An impatient wizard and her new apprentice must keep their country from being torn apart while they search for the rightful king.

After the treacherous murder of the last High King, the Isle of Esten was left divided and vulnerable. Local rulers contend for power and outside influences bring the island ever closer to destruction.

When one of the few remaining wizards in Esten discovers a neglected farm boy whose dreams seem to foretell the future, she thinks he may hold the key to finding the rightful king and restoring unity to their fractured homeland. Together they must attempt to hold dark forces at bay long enough for the king to appear.

Boy of Dreams is a bit of a throwback to classical farmboy fantasy.

There’s a lot of familiar tropes at play here — the farmboy protagonist, the wandering wizard, a quest to save the world, rigid definitions of good and evil — and as a result it’s very much a comfortable read. It feels like something you’ve read before, evoking memories of classic epic fantasy openers like the Sword of Shannara.

The story follows a boy named Warrenfin, who lives with his abusive uncle by a farm-town in the middle of nowhere. Warrenfin is pretty special in that he will occasionally have prophetic dreams.

Fittingly, a prophecy exists that tells of “a boy of dreams”. It is said that this boy will discover the next High King of Esten, under whom the fractured peoples of the island will be made whole again. A wizard by the name of Tryphena has dedicated the last few years of her life to finding this boy, and — smallest-of-spoilers alert —she finds him within the first few chapters.

Hey, there wouldn’t be much of a story if she didn’t, right?

Tryphena takes Warrenfin as her apprentice, and a large portion of the book is dedicated to following the master/apprentice relationship that they develop. Now, I’m a huge fan of master/apprentice stuff — particularly when both parties are of a different sex. I’ve previously loved the dynamic between pairs such as Mia and Mercurio in Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight, and Girton and Merela in RJ Barker’s Age of Assassins.

There’s a touch of that magic here, but I felt that it lacked a little bit of spark. Their relationship develops throughout the story as the characters grow, but I felt that it lacked a little bit of emotion. You can tell that Warrenfin and Tryphena care for each other, but this isn’t really explored in depth.

Instead, the novel focuses more on character-work at an individual level, on moving the plot forward, and on worldbuilding.

I’ve got to say, I’ve got pretty mixed feelings about the worldbuilding in this book.

It’s all interesting, don’t get me wrong. It’s a world which has been lovingly crafted, with tonnes of details thrown in to provide context and made everything seem a little more real. My issue is that there was too much detail.

There are quite a number of info-dumps in this book, and while they are justified in the story, I feel like they detract from the reading experience. There are passages where Tryphena will divulge whole pages of information to Warrenfin in dialogue, only broken up when the latter asks convenient “who, how, what, why?” questions to feed into the next lengthy paragraph.

Thankfully, such scenes don’t occur too often.

This is a book that will appeal to those looking for wholesome, classical fantasy. Sometimes you just wanna read about genuinely nice protagonists, watch them stand up for what is right, and root for them as they fight against something which is clearly evil.

This book gives you that.

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