I’d wanted to read Jonathan Renshaw’s 2015 self-pub Kindle Unlimited enrollee for several months. Dawn of Wonder sports upwards of 3700 Amazon reviews with an average rating of 4.6 stars — a rare feat for any well-established author, much less a self-publishing up-start. But it’s also a whopping 710 pages long, so you see my hesitation.
But enough wind-up. I read it.
The first sixth of the novel gripped me. Thirma peasant Aedan of Misty Vales lives in a medieval world of war and political intrigue, including well-organized cross-border human trafficking campaigns that can target anyone, though the higher born, the better. Our hero possesses a shrewd and calculating mind that could track a hawk, but he’s also a deeply wounded young boy who can collapse into helplessness when challenged. That said, this character has a lion-sized heart and it’s impossible not to root for him as he chases slavers through the deep woods of Misty Vales with credibly well-illustrated tracking prowess. Kudos to the author for his deft detailing of the finer points of forest tracking.
Then Dawn of Wonder transitions to something quite different.
I sank so deep into the first tale involving Aedan and his friend Kalry, it was a wrench to switch gears to the coming-of-age training tale constituting the bulk of this book. The story I really wanted to read probably happens in book two, maybe even three … ugh … but Renshaw is great with language, so I stayed on board for the training piece, which does go on.
At school — and particularly in Aedan’s relationship with Ilona — I sensed having wandered into a Dickens novel. I’ve read a lot of Dickens and defy anyone to tell me this kid doesn’t come into a David Copperfield-esque clumsiness not quite in keeping with the forester at the beginning of the novel; but so saying, I like Dickens, so I had patience there, too.
Dawn of Wonder climaxes on a political expedition to Kultuhm, a mountain city ruined by a mysterious source of destruction. On his journey, Aedan confronts his weaknesses repeatedly and inescapably. This is development that really had to be dealt with before Aedan could proceed to the story I wanted most to read. So I guess I understand the author’s choice not to begin with that story, but the development catalyst Renshaw chose was ambitious. Ambitious a la theophany.
That’s ambitious. And I’m not offended. Theophany litters the greatest tomes of our literary past, but it is very hard to do well, unless you’re well … Moses?
I’m not being arbitrary. I cite here a rule I extracted from the very pages in question:
Simple, but most good designs are.
Theophany isn’t elegant problem solving; in most cases it’s a blunt instrument. This character deserved a tailored solution that restrains itself from settling theological questions in the reader’s behalf. Readers want to earn their rewards. The best authors will let them.
And yet, I will absolutely be reading the next novel in THE WAKENING.