My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Laurel Black has created a fantasy tale with a nail-bitingly difficult and twisty quest, multi-faceted dual protagonists, and an impressive array of secondary characters. And, she believes in what she’s created and is willing to do the work needed to get the word out there.
When Laurel first approached me to read and review Lost Kingdom, she was charmingly relentless. When I didn’t respond right away to her email request, she followed up with a link to a teaser video that she’d created just for me, addressing me by name in it. I’ve got to admit, that sort of attention is hard to resist, so I said yes. She immediately mailed me a mysterious postcard, assuring me that my book would be on the way soon.
The package was well worth the wait. Inside, I found an impressively large, heavy paperback novel, a glossy bookmark, a black envelope with gold lettering and sealing wax containing a personal note, and a mysterious drawstring pouch containing a small rune stone and a key. She’d drawn me into her world before I’d even opened the book. But once I started reading, it was hard to stop. The paperback version is over 450 pages long, but I was turning those pages so fast I think I created a breeze in my room.
The world of Eastlandra is filled with a variety of kingdoms, each of which is home to a tribe gifted with their own unique manifestation of magic. From soul bonded bear familiars to bird folk who can soar the skies, there’s diversity at every turn.
Raven is a prisoner, forced to work under appalling conditions in a dismal mineral mine. Her only clue to who she might be is a map that’s embedded in the palm of her hand—which she can’t read. In a world filled with magic, she’s somehow been rendered tribeless, with no memories and no magic.
Oh the other hand, Jeddak knows exactly who he is. He’s a Kovak, soul bound to Kah, the bear familiar that’s always with him. Kah’s not just a novelty, he’s a useful, interesting character in his own right. And he’s sarcastic. A big furry snarky bear familiar? Yes please! Jeddak and Kah are on a quest to find a stone that must be brought back to the Kovak king in order to free his betrothed, who’s being held prisoner as collateral to ensure he completes his quest.
With these two protagonists taking turns telling their story in every other chapter, the reader gets two points of view from equally important protagonists. The author has done a fine job of creating their characters to be distinctly different from each other, as is apparent each time the point of view changes. They stay true to their perceptions of what’s important as each tries to complete their personal quest while coping with their traveling companion’s quirks.
For me, the plot is one very long road trip, the path of which is determined by the decisions the two main characters make. This path is complicated by hidden agendas they are keeping secret from each other. There’s also a slow-burn romance threaded throughout the adventure, but it doesn’t overwhelm the story. Both Raven and Jeddak are determined to reach their goals, and are honestly caught off-guard by their growing feelings for each other. Being young, they make plenty of mistakes, misinterpreting each others actions at every turn. You’ll cheer them on, while wishing you could slap some sense into them, too.
The ending is satisfying, while leaving enough loose threads dangling to let us know a sequel is coming. I’m looking forward to it! Perhaps I’ll need to start sending the author encouraging postcards to make sure she stays on task.
I had the opportunity to ask Laurel Black that classic question readers always wonder about: Where did her story idea come from? And she said…
“The idea for Lost Kingdom came to me when I woke up one morning. There’s a girl, her name is Raven, and she can turn into a bird. That was it. Nothing more. It would have been easy to ignore the idea. I was already in the middle of writing another novel at the time and told myself I needed to focus if I ever wanted to get my first book published. But the image of Raven wouldn’t leave me. Every time I went for a walk or had a moment of free time, Raven’s story kept building in my mind.
“At first, it was just bits and pieces–the different tribes, the bear companion, the LOTR-like world. But when I finally decided to sit down and write an outline, the story began pouring out of me. I ended up loving this story so much that I paused writing my other book and began this one. It took me 5 months to write the first draft and then 3 (long) years after that to get it ready to publish. In that time, my initial idea has come a long way and become what I hope others will feel is a fun, fast-paced adventure that they don’t want to put down.”
Mission accomplished, Laurel. Lost Kingdom is a creative, thoroughly thought-out fantasy, with a plot that keeps you guessing as you travel through Eastlandra alongside Jeddak and Raven. I found their path to be filled with fascinating people and creatively imagined locations. An enjoyable trip, indeed.
Lost Kingdom releases January 17, 2024, but you can, and should, pre-order it now at Amazon.