Masters and Slayers: A Review

Readers of the young adult fantasy Starlighter will recognize the opening scene of Bryan Davis’s upcoming Masters and Slayers — that feeling of “we’ve been here before” is more than just deja vu. Masters and Slayers is the first book in the “Tales of Starlight” series published by AMG/Living Ink, a fantasy series for adults that shares a world, characters, and an overarching plot with Zondervan’s YA series “Dragons of Starlight.”

This time, as the book opens in an arena where the most gifted warriors of Major 4 compete, our attention is focused not on Jason Masters — hero of Starlighter — but on Adrian, his older brother, who is about to give up the glory and title of champion for the sake of principle and principle alone: his nearest competitor is a woman, Marcelle, and Adrian does not fight women. He steps down, and in that one act of character reveals to anyone who cares to look that he really is a hero.

A hero worth his salt, Adrian has greater things than tournaments on his mind. He is preparing to follow a series of mysterious clues to a portal that will take him to another world: Starlight, the dragon planet, where kidnapped humans have been held as slaves for generations. The passionate and revenge-hungry Marcelle goes with him, along with two more unexpected companions (sorry, no more details — I’m trying to avoid spoilers!). Their goal is to free the slaves — but first they must survive a conspiracy on their own planet, find their way through the portal, encounter a benevolent dragon who rules the Northlands of Starlight, and learn to work together before mistrust and mistakes destroy their hopes before they can even begin to be realized.

Masters and Slayers is a far more adult story than Starlighter. Marcelle, who avoids being the stereotypical “headstrong female” by virtue of her fears and deep frailties, tries her hardest to fight, dress, and guard herself like a man because of the serial-killer-style murder of her mother. While Adrian’s chivalry is noted and upheld, the very opposite attitudes of some villains (and the dragon habit of breeding their human slaves) gets more than a passing mention. The violence is also more realistic (read: gorier) and the villains more obviously despicable. But Masters and Slayers isn’t just “adult” in the sense of earning a higher content rating. It’s also deeper, more thought-provoking, and more disturbing in good ways — the kinds of ways that provoke us to compassion and force us to look more clearly at ourselves.

Had I not read Starlighter first, I might have found some of the plot intersections annoying (too many unexplained actions and dangling threads), but overall I thought the juxtaposition of the series works well — at least, so far! The worlds of Starlight and Major 4 are better developed in Masters and Slayers, and in my opinion, are noticeably cooler. I still found the mix of science and fantasy hard to settle into (our heroes wield swords, arrows, and axes, but local government forces use DNA to convict criminals; video comes into play, as does genome mapping, yet the setting is medieval in most other ways).

My overall opinion? I read Masters and Slayers in a matter of hours because Starlighter hooked me on the story enough to make me want to know what else is happening in it. After reading M&S, I’m even more hooked. I have questions, I care about certain characters, and I want closure. I was going to write that as a negative — I didn’t feel like Masters and Slayers offered much closure in anything. But when it comes right down to it, that just means I really want to read the next book. Recommended for discerning readers who enjoy fantasy and don’t mind tackling tough issues that don’t have easy answers.







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