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Demon’s Reign by David Estes and Ben Galley

“I grinned around the circle until I caught the fear-soaked gaze of one of the warriors and remembered that none of them had their own private demons.”

I’m not sure why I decided to purchase Demon’s Reign, first of the Bloodwood Saga, but whew, I’m glad I did! Of course the only problem with first-in-series books is waiting for the next installment. Alas.

Anyway, David Estes and Ben Galley knocked it out of the park with this collaborative effort. Wait! I DO know why I picked this one up! I love Ben’s writing style and world building and figured anything he was part of had to be good. (Sorry David, I’m not as familiar with your work. Although, I can promise I’m adding your books to my cart in a multi-tasking marathon while I write this review.) But I digress…

The Swathe is a strictly structured forest realm where citizens live and die according to the orders of their tribes, determined by birth order.

The first-born shall be the heir.

The second-born the warrior.

The third-born blessed as workers.

The fourth-born owed to the scholars.

The fifth-born to become a healer.

The sixth-born shall forever wander.

Those with the gods’ gift for the sorcers.

These shall be the seven tribes of the Swathe.


Regardless of tribe, most never set foot on the dark and dangerous forest floor, spending all their days in the soaring branches of their bloodwood tree cities. The bloodwoods are the oldest and strongest trees in the Swathe, towering hundreds of feet above the lesser trees in the forest. Hundreds of miles of canopy highways connect the bloodwood cities, stretching all the way to The Scorch, a vast, smoldering, and desolate memorial to the last demon invasion.

Readers are introduced to the Swathe via Tarkosi Terelta, a third-born worker from a disgraced family in Shal Gara, capital bloodwood city of the Swathe. Tarko isn’t the best worker and has failed at more job assignments than he cares to remember. He knows he failed the sorcer’s test as a child but can’t help feeling as though the results were wrong. He is sure he was meant for more than a lifetime of drudgery, working to support every aspect of Shal Gara’s existence.

We meet Tarko as a lancewings nesthand. Lancewings are the bird-like steeds of the city’s air force. Tending the persnickety creatures and kowtowing to their arrogant riders is his last step before being demoted to the louse mines. Unfortunately, while tending to the lancewings, Tarko’s presence is noted by Eagleborn Haidak Baran, lancewing captain. Haidak’s father, Sage Baran is an advisor to the Matriarch and the nobleman responsible for the Terelta family’s fall from grace. Tarko loses another job and winds up pulling louse from the bloodwood’s core.

And then the bloodwood city of Firewatch is destroyed. The sun goddess’s is being swallowed by shadow. Wildfires catch hold along the Loamsedge and greedily burn into the forest.

Shal Gara sends an expedition, led by Haidak Baran, to the determine the cause. Kidnapped by the blind beggar Pel, who has an addictive affinity for the drug known as urka seeds, Tarko finds himself swept up in the war party’s caravan. Pel tells Tarko that he suspects there’s more to the strange omens and events than simple marauders from the Scorch. Pel believes demons have returned to the Swathe. Pel isn’t alone is his belief and he is certain Tarko has a role to play in the coming confrontation with the demon invasion.

The canopy causeway dumps the expedition directly into the hands of a waiting demon horde. Through luck and stolen magic, Tarko manages to survive. Only, his survival is due to the sudden presence of a demon’s spirit living in his head. Pel and his band of believers, known as the Scions, also managed to escape and eventually meet up with Tarko again. Together, the believers and Tarko (with his unhappy and insulting passenger) race back to Shal Gara to tell the truth of what is happening at the forest’s edge. Tarko doesn’t tell them he’s carrying a demon into their midst. The demon’s presence has ignited abilities and talents Tarko was always sure he possessed. He closely guards his secret.

Demons and wildfire are racing towards Shal Gara while the Scions furiously work to prepare the city for the coming onslaught.

“I grinned around the circle until I caught the fear-soaked gaze of one of the warriors and remembered that none of them had their own private demons.”

Told primarily from Tarkosi’s point of view, Demon’s Reign is an incredible creation of new world and new magic. Estes and Galley provide a gorgeous map of Shal Gara which is immensely helpful for readers learning their way around. The primary characters, both protagonal and antagonal, are fully fleshed out, complicated and fallible. The supporting cast do their jobs very well. Even the animals and insects are compelling.

Because I’m not martially inclined, I often find myself skimming through the twists and turns of highly descriptive fight scenes. Not so here. I read every single word and caught myself bobbing and weaving my head as I dodged fireballs and mud arrows launched from the opposing sides. Estes and Galley absolutely nailed the fine balance between a well-choreographed battle versus an over-done bloodbath.

I prefer my fantasy to be virtually romance free and Demon’s Reign delivered on that front too. Give me swirling magic! The groans of surprising twists! The suspense of betrayal! The villain’s redemption! Yes, yes, yes! I’ll be swooning in no time.

I can hardly wait to return to Shal Gara and the Swathe. You should read this book and join me in anticipation.

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Demon’s Reign

Demon’s Reign

Demon’s Reign

Demon’s Reign

Demon’s Reign

Demon’s Reign

Demon’s Reign

Demon’s Reign

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