#WyrdandWonder Book Review: The Warden by Daniel M. Ford

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Warden by Daniel M. Ford

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Warden

Publisher: Tor (April 18, 2023)

Length: 320 pages

Author Information: Website

Everyone needs a necromancer—even a sleepy off-the-map village like Lone Pine. But for newly minted necromancer Aelis de Lenti, the prospect of being assigned to the remote stretches of the kingdom are far from her idea of glory. Having graduated at the top of her class at the Magisters’ Lyceum, the young noblewoman had expected a position befitting her wealth and social status in one of the glittering cities, not some insignificant backwater town where nothing ever happens.

But that’s the way with life: nothing ever quite works out as planned, but you’ll also never know how much you’re capable of until your limits are tested. No sooner had Aelis accepted her fate as Warden of Lone Pine than strange things start happening in town. As it turns out, keeping the peace here will require a lot more than breaking up tavern brawls and finding lost sheep. There’s sinister magic involved, putting the townsfolk in danger as its effects start to take hold. With renewed purpose, Aelis realizes just how much Lone Pine has come to mean to her, and now she must use everything she’s learned to rescue it in its hour of need.

For fans of Dungeons & Dragons and old-school quest narratives, The Warden by Daniel M. Ford is one to put on your reading list. Much of this world where you can find humans living alongside orcs, elves, and dwarves is a nod to D&D, especially its magic systems and concepts. Even the plot plays out like an RPG campaign, which the author clearly had fun writing. That said, the resulting story will feel a bit disjointed in places, composed of a few major “questlines” punctuated by the occasional side quest. Admittedly, sometimes it was great and sometimes it wasn’t. And a book like this might work for you, or it might not. Still, I have to say, heading into this novel with the awareness that it was inspired by D&D, it helped me a lot to know what to expect.

So, real talk, you’re not going to get the most original world-building. However, the good news is that the story and the characters make up for this and other minor shortcomings. At its heart, The Warden is about a rich city girl who finds herself out of her element. An intelligent and hardworking overachiever, Aelis knows she’s destined for greatness, so when she is sent to Lone Pine, a post that she feels is way too much beneath her, our protagonist is understandably a little grumpy. Not that Lone Pine is all that pleased about her presence either. Living on the edges of the kingdom, the villagers are distrustful of anything they don’t understand, and magic is a source of fear and superstition for them. It also doesn’t help that Aelis is very good at what she does and isn’t shy about admitting it, a confidence that can look a lot like arrogance, which tends to turn people off.

Needless to say though, Aelis is eventually humbled by the good and honest people of Lone Pine, and starts to win a few of them over herself. Just this journey alone made the book worth it. In this community of mostly farmers, there were many standout side characters that filled out and livened up the cast, from the curious young Pippen to the beautiful half-elf Maurenia who captures Aelis’ heart. Of course, as our protagonist grew more at home, another side of her personality also began to emerge—a more caring, humorous, and sympathetic side—proving that there is more depth to her snobbish and self-absorbed persona than previously observed. Under that unflappable exterior she shows to the world, she’s actually just as scared and insecure as anyone.

Later on, a greater mystery is also hinted at which involves Aelis’ presence in Lone Pine. In the back of my mind, it had always bothered me why the Lyceum had decided to squander her talents by sending her to the frontier. Surely it had to be more than just character building? In the final third of the book, a major “quest” reveals the answer, and I am curious to see how everything will come together. With the way it ends, a second book is certainly incoming, and I’m definitely checking it out when it arrives.

13 Comments on “#WyrdandWonder Book Review: The Warden by Daniel M. Ford”

  1. The concept of “mundane” humans mixing with supernatural beings always fascinates me so I might give this one a chance one of these days – even though I know nothing about Dungeons and Dragons and might find myself a little…lost 😉
    Thanks for sharing!


  2. I don’t know why your review made me think of Emily Wylde’s . Maybe because the townfolk are won over?? Anyway, I have never played Dungeon and Dragons but is seems a nice entertaining read!


  3. This is one (of many) books that got lost in the mail somewhere during my move, so I never received my copy. I guess I won’t be reading it! Too bad, it sounds really good.


  4. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 05/07/23: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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