A traditional “farm boy” coming-of-age fantasy Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw was exactly the type of book I was looking for at the time. Son of a common born forester Aedan is a curious and adventurous boy who is propelled by tragedy early in the novel on a journey of growth, discovery, and vengeance. Renshaw has a light touch when it comes to magic and while elements both magical and monstrous appear in the novel the focus remains firmly focused on Aedan and his growth over the course of his adventures.
Of particular note is that Aedan is the victim of abuse at the hands of his father and the after effects of that abuse are well drawn out over the course of the novel. Aedan’s rage and frustration over that abuse looms throughout the novel and is at war with Aedan’s love for his abuser. Several times throughout the novel Aedan is exposed to triggers that bring about an extreme stress response that cause him to re-live his abuse. I’m not sure I can name any other fantasy novels that attempt to tackle Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in children. Dawn of Wonder’s examination of this aspect works on some levels but there are at least some caveats. By my best guess Aedan’s “treatment” for this in the novel is a compressed form of exposure therapy (http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/therapy-med/treatment-ptsd.asp) that I’m not certain realistically reflects the journey victims experience in overcoming abuse. There is also element of faith involved with Aedan’s overcoming his abuser. Though the deities discussed in Dawn of Wonder are ill-defined Aedan’s experience with the one such deity espouses forgiveness in a way that strongly resembles Christian tenets. It isn’t anything too preachy but Aedan’s encounter plays a significant role in his moving past his feelings of anger and his need for vengeance against his father.
Aedan’s anger remains a constant problem throughout the majority of the novel and there are particular moments when that anger causes Aedan to resemble his father quite a bit. It is occasionally frustrating but manages to still feel like a believable aspect of Aedan’s personality. There are times when Aedan’s competence, particularly his ability to survive in the wild, strains credulity but these instances are few and far between. Most of the frustration that comes about with regards Aedan’s characterization over the novel feels like the result of his age more than anything else.
The focus on Aedan is consistent throughout the novel. As a result Dawn of Wonder does not offer the same depth of characterization with regards to the supporting cast. The novel does not delve into the history of characters beyond Aedan and the role of Aedan’s friends seem primarily to serve as foil. That is not to say that the supporting cast is paper thin, it isn’t, and each of Aedan’s friends (and enemies) have a distinct personality but there isn’t much revealed about their motivations and desires. Similarly the world of Dawn of Wonder is only vaguely sketched out. Since Aedan is the conduit through which we learn about the world details are fleshed out only as Aedan becomes aware of them. For the most part this works and it certainly helps the novel avoid any major information dumps.
For a fantasy novel the actual fantastical elements are fairly light. Throughout the novel magical storms rage across the land each one seemingly “wakening” (hence the series title) the land in strange ways as they pass. Mysterious monsters also seem to follow in these storm’s wake; though it only towards the novel’s end where we get a close up glimpse at one of these. There are hints a dire times to come but the specifics are hard to come by. The most fantastic elements don’t show up until the novels final chapters so it will be interesting see how things progress during future novels.
The folks at Podium Publishing have produced a top notch audio version of the novel. Tim Gerard Reynolds is a world-class narrator whose voice easily conveys emotion. It is a testament to the combined skill of Renshaw’s writing and Reynold narration that the novel’s almost thirty hour runtime does not feel nearly that long; despite the novel dragging a bit during the middle section.
Dawn of Wonder is an assured debut novel from Jonathan Renshaw and his love and care in crafting both the world and the character of Aedan is evident throughout the novel. While the Dawn of Wonder does fall in line with traditional fantasy tropes, and meanders a little during the middle chapters, Aedan’s top-notch characterization elevates the proceedings. While the second novel in The Wakening series seems to be ways off I can still whole-heartedly recommend that fans of traditional epic fantasy give Dawn of Wonder a try. This is pure fantasy comfort food at its best.