Book Review: Journey of the Maple by Britney Dehnert

Hi there! I’m back with another review for you this week.

This is one I’ve been meaning to write and post for a couple of weeks now, but life, health, and busyness all got in the way. Point is though, I’m here.

First, a bit of exciting news for me… Seregn is DONE!

What do I mean by that? Well, all that’s left for me to do is receive a ‘proof copy’ to check over and ensure everything looks good and then the print run will begin!

A print run can take a few months – and with the world still recovering from covid (along with general potential delays in customs and the like) it will still be some time before I can set a firm release date, but WOW we’re getting closer!

But, enough of me, on to Journey of the Maple by Britney Dehnert – Epoch Mythos Series: Heralds Book One. This is a YA fantasy novel, and a debut (I love debuts!).

When Britney kindly offered to read Seregn for a potential review, I wanted to extend the same offer to her. She, very kindly, provided me with Journey of the Maple. Britney told me as her debut it was ‘rougher’ than her others, but still was a good example of her style.

As a debut author myself, I have immense understanding for what it feels like to share your first story with the world. As a writer you will only grow from those first chapters; at the same time, first books are often books of the heart, tales you were so passionate to write they were what finally got you to put pen to paper. First books can be so beautiful for that reason – seeing the heart of a new writer, fresh and eager for their tale to be read.

But, I’m digressing, so let’s just jump in to the review.

This book did not go the way I expected it. I went in knowing nothing of the story, and when some major events go down in the early chapters, I was somewhat in denial and anticipating a turnaround that just didn’t come. And I mean that in a good way. A great way, actually. This story took a really familiar trope and utterly flipped it on it’s head. I love that. I don’t want to get too much into the plot, because so much of the fun of a novel, for me, lies in discovering where the story is going for yourself. What I will say, is that after the first few chapters completed obliterated where I thought the story was going, I was just along for the ride with no idea whatsoever – and I loved it.

The world of Journey of the Maple reminds me of the novel Palindor. I read it as a child and really, really loved it. The various races of Maple reminded me of my childhood book, which I haven’t read for, I’m guessing, 15 years. For that I’ve got a soft spot for Maple. There’s something warm and delightful and familiar about this world, whilst also feeling completely unique – and dangerous.

The political system of Galtia, Prince Sharin’s (who I’ll get to soon) home country, in particular was really interesting to me. Without spoiling the story, the set up of how one becomes a king or queen felt very unusual and, therefore, was fascinating to discover. When it comes to the overall world, it’s history and cultures, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. To me, this is what you’re after for book one of a series. There’s plenty to enjoy and wonder over, but also plenty of questions to entice you back for more.

That’s all for now on the overall story and world. I’d like to touch on just a few notable characters (though there are many more!)

First off, Princess Andrethea.
Andrethea begins as something of a classic damsel – even, I might say, a damsel in distress. But she doesn’t stay that way. On the ‘classic damsel’ side, at times I found it surprising how little she knew of her own world, but her tenacity, growing confidence, and power really won me over – that, and her sheer goodness. She’s an excellent main character and I really was rooting for her to succeed. On another note, Andrethea has prophetic dreams, which as a trope or plot device can be really effective if done well, or really annoying or disappointing if done poorly. I’m happy to say it’s definitely the former. Her dreams are sprinkled throughout the story (so they never seem weird or out of place) and always have relevance to the plot – whether quickly thereafter or some time later. Overall, I really enjoyed reading Andrethea as our main character.

Next, Ilandra.
Ilandra the dryad was only a minor character in the novel, but she stayed with me. I love reading novels with some of these races I see less often, and dryads are amazing. Ilandra’s wisdom, kindness, and gift made a big impact on those she interacted with. Despite her few scenes, she had a crucial role in the story, and she was done very well.

Prince Sharin.
Prince Sharin at the start of the novel comes across as nothing but a kind, sweet young man desiring to please his fiancé, his parents, and his country. He’s chivalrous, valiant, and determined, and I immediately warmed to his character. His affection for Andrethea felt genuine and I smiled at their scenes together. He’s our classic hero, and knight in shining armour, and no matter how long that idea, that kind of character, has existed, it never, ever, ever goes out of style. Chivalry, in my opinion, is always classy.

I really, really liked Kal. At first, without giving away any plot, I was disappointed in the outcomes of early scenes, because of how I anticipated the story would go. But Kal really, really grew in my estimation from a ‘side-kick’ character to an excellent character purely in his own right as the story progressed and I finally understood where the story was going. Similarly to Prince Sharin, Kal is a valiant, chivalrous warrior – but without the Prince’s royal lineage. Working amongst the races of elves and dren, he has the additional obstacle of his half-dwarven parentage. Kal is truly an excellent character I didn’t expect to care much for at the start of the novel, but by the end he’d won my heart.

Krizimir is our bad guy of Journey of the Maple, and when I say bad, I mean deliciously bad. You know what I mean – that bad guy who is delightfully evil mostly just for the sake of it. There is of course a motivation (and a good, ‘it makes sense’ motivation too) for why he does what he does. But he’s the kind of villain that has glee in his eyes at the thought of his evildoings. He reminds me of the classic Disney villain who knows they’re evil and revels in it. That’s an incredibly fun villain to read, and write. Modern books seem to move away from this a bit in favour of a bunch of morally grey characters in all shades and tones, but there’s something really fun and nice about reading a novel where the good guys are good, and the bad guys are bad.

That all said, there are some characters our heroes trust that they really shouldn’t. But I can’t give anything more away!

Overall, the story is, as Britney first told me, a debut, and for me, there were times I found the pacing a tad inconsistent or character actions or emotional changes a little sudden. But these are really minor notes in what is a really delightful debut. Themes of goodness, of courage, of self-sacrifice, of valour, of love despite appearances, all shine through in this beautiful tale, where the good guys are good, and the bad guys are deliciously evil.

I’ll leave you with a couple of lovely quotes from the novel:

‘The prince bowed his head. When he straightened again, there was a steel glint in his eyes that bespoke of sparks to come.’

‘You shine when you are needed in the forest. Do not doubt your strength.’

Overall, I really enjoyed this one and will definitely be picking up book two.

Have you read Journey of the Maple? What did you think? If you haven’t who is your favourite ‘deliciously evil’ villain?