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I was eager to return to the world fashioned by two-time Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) semi-finalist author Jacob Sannox, that I first experienced reading “Dark Oak”, Book one of “The Dark Oak Chronicles”. Thus, the follow-up, entitled “Age of the Dryad”, leaped onto my TBR as soon as I finished book one. Finally having a chance to get to book two, I was not disappointed. I can happily report that “Age of the Dryad” surpassed the brilliant first installment.

**Please note**this review touches somewhat on events that occurred in previous books in the series – thus potential SPOILERS for the previous book.**

We pick up where “Dark Oak” left off, as the reader sees what kind of leader Dark Oak will be post-victory. Apparently, he won’t be a pleasant one. Dark Oak has subjugated the humans, forcing them to comply with his new vision of the future, which seems to mean complete regression for the humans. But the new Dryad King appears to be unassailable, and the humans have no choice to but to be under his heel. His loyal dryads – a true force of nature – ensure that mortal-kind are helpless in the face of their sheer power.

Dark Oak is not the altruistic and cerebral ruler that his predecessor Riark was. He is driven by anger and vengeance. But his rash actions have sown disloyalty among some of those who are supposed to follow him with blind obedience.

Seen as a usurper, besides dealing with human opposition, Dark Oak will need to contend with other powerful Dryads, Naiads, Oreads, and Sylphs, who believe that his rule has become a reign of terror, rather than one of benevolence. But Dark Oak is not without his allies, including his former children, and sinister powers that he seeks to align with, in the hopes to gain the ancient, ominous knowledge he requires, in order to combat his enemies.

Rowan, Dark Oak’s estranged wife, must find herself emotionally and intellectually in the wake of the loss of her children. But the miraculous creatures who inhabit the forests have plans for Rowan, far beyond anything she ever could have dreamed.

At the same time, thanks to Dark Oak, Cathryn, once queen of the mortals, has her realm disbanded, her human subjects forced to eek out a primitive existence as hunter-gatherers, their once mighty strongholds seized, their formidable armies shattered. But Cathryn has not given up hopes to restore her former glory. She knows the only way she can succeed is to defeat Dark Oak. Therefore, she entrusts a simple knight with the daunting, perilous task of seeking out Dark Oak’s mother tree, and destroying it, thus killing the Dryad ruler.

But Toulcan, the knight, will be severely challenged in his mission. He won’t just beset by dangers. He’ll also be forced to confront the essence of his chivalry and his morals, as success demands sacrifice, and dark deeds.

Aldwyn, meanwhile, separated from his queen, finds that his new allies may be more perilous than his enemies. The nobleman struggles to maintain his loyalty, while exercising the queen’s mandate. But Aldywn will have to keep a close eye on powerful clansmen, sworn to Cathryn, who have their own ideas about how to ensure the continuity of the royal line.

“Dark Oak” was about who arises in the power vacuum left by the vanquishing of the Dark Lord Awgren. In “Age of the Dryad”, we learn some shocking truths about Awgren, and why that vacancy in power could quickly be replaced by someone equally, if not more malevolent.

As in book one, the vying for supremacy, intrigue, hubris, raw ambition, tragedy, selfishness, vanity, and descent into madness, continue to torment, confound, and in some cases eliminate the humans in the story. But in “Age of the Dryad”, we see more clearly that the newly made Dryads and other magical creatures – who were formerly human – are also still more initially susceptible to human frailties until they mature. These Dryads could fall victim to the same decrepitude as their human counterparts, if they aren’t careful, and it makes for really compelling reading.

The Dryads, Nymphs, etc. have an order, and a hierarchy of power that is established to ensure a stability and orderliness to nature. Both Dark Oak and the humans threaten this harmony and balance, and parties amongst the Dryads are determined that balance will be restored, no matter the cost.

As with “Dark Oak”, the reader should be prepared for some disturbing, utterly gut-wrenching scenes. This is a dark book, set in a harsh world, where a lot of morally ambiguous characters who have done some quite distasteful things, finally seem to have karma catch up to them. The comeuppances are brutal, shocking, and even evoke sympathy for those who perhaps might not otherwise be deserving of it, due to the manner in which they meet their ends. Innocents also suffer and die, and Sannox pulls no punches in showing how the human’s society has devolved in the aftermath of Dark Oak’s edict that strewed them to all the corners of the world. I loved witnessing the awesome power of the magical forces in Sannox’s world.

While I found “Age of the Dryad” to begin slower paced than its predecessor, this was just fine with me. Sannox takes his time, meticulously, and expertly manoeuvering the characters into position, and into the most harrowing of situations, before exploding everything all around them in catastrophic fashion. Sannox writes exceptionally, tight, lean, yet eloquent, and in more of the classical methodology that I love, with the exception of a few colloquialisms here and there, that seemed a bit out of place. Yet overall, I truly love the writing.

The same minor criticisms I had of the first book “Dark Oak”, remain with this second novel. Sannox loves his multiple POV’s stories, and has no compunction with head-hopping, even in the midst of POV scenes. While these transitions were not overly disruptive, and it does provide the reader with a very broad and fascinating perspective of events from many sides of the conflicts, some might find it a bit disconcerting. Nonetheless, this did not in any way diminish my personal enjoyment of the book. Only slightly longer than “Dark Oak”, Sannox writes efficiently, with nary a wasted word, while still delivering evocative scenes, with brilliant storytelling. Sannox can REALLY weave a great story.

When I finished “Age of the Dryad”, I am left asking, “What on earth happens now?”. Because so many essential characters have (seemingly) met their fates. As I noted above, Sannox excelled at delivering utterly heart-breaking, extremely poignant moments in “Dark Oak”, and “Age of the Dryad” was no different. In this book, we continue to loose a lot of major players.

Like GRRM, Sannox has a penchant for killing off those who seem integral to the story. I felt bereft reading this book, as some of my favs didn’t make it, some of the ones I disliked, however seemed to have potential for redemption, were also taken off the board.

But with Sannox, I’m learning there is always a twist around the corner, and fresh new characters with interesting new arcs being introduced in this book, Sannox has left plenty of diverting storylines needing to be resolved in the final installment. Moreover, with potential re-incarnation for deceased mortals coming back as other, even more powerful creatures, the possibilities are dizzyingly endless, and extremely exciting!

This is one of the most imaginative and refreshing, not to mention one of the darkest fantasy series out there. The whole concept of a post-“dark lord”, world, and how humans and immortals pick up the pieces after the victory, and attempt to co-exist is fascinating stuff. This books packs a punch, and shows off Sannox’s stellar writing, flair for great characterization, relentless and brutal action, and high drama.

“Age of the Dryad” is a highly entertaining, thought-provoking, five-star read! I can’t wait to see the conclusion to the series, one where I have no idea where it’s going and how it’s going to wrap up! But I’m definitely going along for the ride!

BUY IT HERE!

 

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