Thank you to Tor Books for sending me a copy of The Warden in exchange for an honest review!

Aelis de Lenti, daughter of a count and decorated graduate of the esteemed Magisters’ Lyceum, had it all planned out. She graduated with honors as one of the only female necromancers, which should be a sure path to a comfortable post in the city. Instead, she’s assigned as Warden to the remote village of Lone Pine. Banished to a crumbling tower surrounded by villagers who want nothing to do with her, Aelis feels destined for years of boredom. But as the villagers finally open up to her, they start behaving strangely. Dark, ancient magic is waking up, and Aelis may be the only person standing between terrible evil and the rest of the world.

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The Warden is a book with a lot of potential. It reads a bit like the world-building before a D&D campaign. There’s a unique magic system, the expected magical races (elves, dwarves and orcs) and the perfect inn to plan adventures from. Readers learn about this world directly from Aelis, a freshly graduated wizard, as she explains things to the villagers she meets. She does so with an academic tone but isn’t pretentious about it.

On that note, I appreciated that Daniel M. Ford started Aelis’ story after she finished school. There are so many magical school stories out there. However, not many pay attention to what happens after you graduate, especially not when you end up with a job that’s nothing like what you wanted. Aelis is never sure if her far-flung assignment is because she’s a woman. She believes herself to be too good for Lone Pine, but she tries not to let the villagers know. This provides fun asides where she wants to reply with an arrogant quip but pushes down her pride in favor of professionalism.

I could tell early on that Aelis was a character I would grow to like. She just didn’t do much at the start of the novel. The first half of The Warden follows Aelis as she gets accustomed to life in Lone Pine; for a while, it’s a lot of the same thing. She fixes up her tower and roams the town to gain the locals’ trust. She spends a lot of time alone, talking to herself. This leads to some of the more awkwardly written portions of the book. We may all talk and mutter to ourselves, but Aelis does this in whole paragraphs. She has complete conversations with herself as she putters around. I can see Ford doing this to allow exposition while Aelis is alone, but it comes off as strange.

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There was also something a bit off with the pacing of The Warden. I don’t mind introspection, especially when it helps to explain the world or magic system. Here, however, it often felt disjointed. When Aelis is getting ready to use a powerful spell in the heat of battle, she often flashes back to first learning it at the Lyceum. This negatively affected the novel’s pacing and often took me out of the action. The effect does, however, peter out near the end of the book. There, events begin to pick up and careen toward a cliffhanger.

While it’s a bit uneven, The Warden is an enjoyable read. Check it out if you’re looking for a Dungeons & Dragons-type world with a unique magic system. Just be ready to wait a while for the sequel!

The Wardens comes out on April 18, 2023, and is available for preorder from your local independent bookstore or

TW: animal death, blood, death, gore, injury, misogyny, swearing, violence

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