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Illborn - Daniel T. Jackson

Read Winter 2022




Illborn is the incredible (and enormous) debut novel by Daniel T Jackson. When I say it's enormous, I mean you could quite literally beat a man to death with a copy. Talking of bludgeoning, the prologue to this book hit me so hard I had to put it down and tweet at Daniel directly. The premise of the story is set around a prophecy in which five children, all born on the same day, are given a task by Lord Aiduel, the messiah of Angall. To assist with this mission, each is given a power and a mantra. This is all well and good except the Holy Church deems them heretics and would murder them on the spot if they were discovered. Illborn is reminiscent of classic epic fantasy and reminds me of The Faithful and the Fallen by John Gwynne. If you want a saga to sink your teeth into, with rising tension and strong characters, I suggest you pick this book up. 


The Story 


Allana's mother is dying and the remaining money she'd earnt as a courtesan is fast dwindling. All Allana has left are the dresses she's sewn and the promise that High Priest Ronis will help. That, and a dream from Lord Aiduel. Soon though, the dresses have been sold and Ronis is dead. Allana must flee to avoid Aiduel's Guard –  inquisitors and heretic hunters. In doing so she discovers she has the power to bend men to her will. She has to stay safe, stay alive, and to that end she'll do whatever it takes, even if that is seducing a Duke. But will it be enough across?


Across the north sea, Corrin is a disappointment to his family and himself. In a civilization of brutal, warlike folk, Corrin's kind heart and good nature are far from appreciated. Coward or not, he is expected to join his first raid as a man and stand shoulder to shoulder with his fellows. Instead, he abandons his own brother and flees the battlefield before becoming unconscious and seeing a vision. As a punishment, he is banished from the village in what is usually a death sentence. But Corrin is strong despite his physical weakness. In the face of freezing winters, hunger and terrible creatures, can he keep himself and his beloved Agbeth alive using only his wits, and the power granted him by Lord Aiduel.


Leanna wants nothing more than to complete her schooling and marry her betrothed. At least that's what people think. Inside she is struggling to choose between a simple life with Lohan, raising children like her parents did, or a life devoted to the church where supplicants are expected to be celibate and wed only to Lord Aiduel. Leanna thinks her prayers for divine intervention, a sign, are answered on her final day of school. She is struck down by a vision from the Lord himself. This convinces her to join the Church. However, the Church would see her powers as heretical and burn her at the stake. But how can they be evil if they were granted by Aiduel himself? 


Arion Sepian, third son of Duke Conran, dreams of joining the Royal Academy of Knights. The Duke, on the other hand, is intent on him joining the priesthood to consolidate the family's power, especially with the church overstepping its boundaries within Andar. When events transpire to see Arion given his chance, he must take it and succeed. Not only to impress the Prince who's in the same intake, but also to be ready for the war brewing either in the Holy Lands or closer to home, he must prove his capability and to try to decipher the recurring dreams he has, whilst keeping his father and the prince on side.


My Thoughts


To be concise, I enjoyed reading Illborn and it reminded me of some of the books I read as a teenager. Not necessarily the content, but the feeling of getting stuck into a tome of a book and being in that world for a prolonged period. I had a strong reaction to the prologue and I felt it took at least half of the book to get back to that point afterwards. That's not to say you can't get stunning views from the top of a shallow but long hill, and Illborn proves that. The length of the book allows that steadier buildup rather than all-action fantasy gangbuster. If you're a fan of deep world-building and a slow but strong plot progression with multiple POVs that has a classic, epic feel to it, Illborn is one you can't afford to pass up.


For those of you with a little more time, I took a little while to get into this one. Mainly that was down to me and a busy schedule when I first picked it up. The prologue (I know I keep going on about it, but it's that good) sets out the promise of the story, and perhaps the entire series. However, the story doesn't completely match that promise until a ways in. Then at the end, as many of these types of multi-narrative stories do, it crashes in on itself and we reach a highly satisfying pay off. I'd hesitate to describe the pace of the story as slow burn, rather, it's like Jackson is maneuvering his pieces into place before the checkmate.


It's the plot – and the world building especially – that really sets Illborn apart. Jackson makes the depth seem effortless. Having four POVs allows us to see all parts of the world he has built. It's hard to ignore the parallels to the Christian faith and church, though it's not my place to say what you should take away from that. The setup of the shared dream kept me wanting to find out when or if the characters would cross paths. Though the plot arc comes to a satisfactory conclusion, it is clearly set up for an ongoing series. I don't know what Jackson's plans are but book 2 (Aiduel's Sin) is already released and I can't see it wrapping up in a trilogy.


Each character is strongly defined with a clear goal and distinct feel. Jackson plays on established tropes but they don't feel tired or overdone. Secondary characters, too, are fully fleshed out rather than feeling like plot devices or sounding boards. I preferred reading some characters' chapters over others but I imagine that's true for anyone reading any multi POV book. You'll have to pick it up yourself to decide which character you like the most. Due to the nature of the narrative, each character line could easily have been a separate novel in it's own right, and I'm excited to watch these characters interact more with each other as the series progresses.


The dialogue throughout Illborn fits the tone and feel of the story like a glove. Voice is a strong part of the book and Jackson pretty much nails it. My only minor gripe is that at points the dialogue is noticeably formal and perfectly correct from a grammatical standpoint. Now this might sound like an odd observation, because surely readers want proper grammar,  but it can make the speech come over as clinical and without personality. As I said, though, this is only a tiny criticism, otherwise the dialogue overall is done well.


In summary, Daniel Jackson has an instant classic here, and Illborn will sit well amongst the likes of Gwynne and David Hair. The story envelops you in an intriguing and detailed world where we learn about the characters' new powers at the same time they do. The question that has stuck with me since finishing centers on the juxtaposition of the Church's teachings and the dreams the lead characters have. Who is the mysterious figure in the dreams? If it is indeed Aiduel, why do his priests not recognise the powers he grants as divine? Aiduel's Sin is already published and I look forward to seeing if the answer to those questions is contained within.


Inkborn Rating  - 8/10

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