Dawn of Wonder is the first book in a fantasy series by Jonathan Renshaw called The Wakening. The book follows Aedan, a precocious but damaged boy, in a coming of age story amidst a backdrop of strange events, political threats and turmoil.
It’s notable to mention that Dawn of Wonder is a self-published work. That is nothing new, but Dawn of Wonder belongs to a qualitative batch of polished and compelling books that have emerged in the past few years without the initial backing of a publisher. This is really exciting, as good stories deserve to be told, with or without the approval and support of a traditional publishing house.
Try as they might, there is simply no way that every promising book can be published in the traditional sense, so the fact that there are alternative avenues which can still provide success, an audience and a forum for writers is fantastic. Nothing beats seeing an author succeed. We’re all readers, and I’m sure we all aspire to giving something back to the genres that have enriched our lives. I love that it is easier to do that than ever. Anyway, on we go to the synopsis.
When a high-ranking officer gallops into the quiet Mistyvales, he brings a warning that shakes the country folk to their roots. But for Aedan, a scruffy young adventurer with veins full of fire and a head full of ideas, this officer is not what he seems.
The events that follow propel Aedan on a journey that only the foolhardy or desperate would risk, leading him to the gates of the nation’s royal academy – a whole world of secrets in itself.
But this is only the beginning of his discoveries. Something is stirring in the land, something more ominous than the rising threat of hostile nations. Fearful travellers whisper of an ancient power breathing over Thirna, changing it, waking it. In the very heart of these stirrings, Aedan encounters that which defies belief, leaving him speechless with terror – and wonder.
The synopsis gives you an idea of what to expect but it only briefly touches upon the content. At over 700 pages, this is a long book, and such a short synopsis leaves a lot unsaid. I’ll attempt to do the same in this review. It’s only fair.
I really enjoyed Dawn of Wonder, but I also found myself frustrated by it. It’s a small thing, but I feel it’s important to articulate it here first. The issue stems, I think, from my perception of inconsistencies with Aedan. Complexity breathes life into a character but there is a strange dissonance within him. The book reveals an element of trauma in his past, but the swings in Aedan were jarring for me, as a reader. The synopsis captures Aedan as a ‘young adventurer’ with ‘veins full of fire’ and this is true, but there is also a damaged, frightened and withdrawn Aedan, which is true too. This conflict is a good idea, but the way these two states coalesce, or don’t, is the problem.
These contrasts and contradictions can engender a compelling arc of growth, but the way the story leaps between these extremes, with little middle ground didn’t quite work for me. Aedan’s problems lead to an increasingly divorced impression between the reader, and the perception that characters in the books have of him. Rather than showing, at times, Jonathan Renshaw is telling in Dawn of Wonder. This bothered me a little, and honestly, it is frustrating only because the rest of the book is pretty fantastic.
Dawn of Wonder, at its heart, is a formative story; it is about children taking their first tentative steps into the adult world. The shortcomings and faults and mistakes that Aedan and his friends make are those that are familiar to all of us, having lived through the painful early teens ourselves. That could be why some of the lessons and problems learnt are so singularly painful and frustrating. The flaws and blemishes in Renshaw’s characters are welcome and necessary. They resonate with the reader and create connections that are vital to forming a rapport with the residents of this world.
The greater world and the magic in Dawn of Wonder, at this point, are mysterious and nebulous, but there are more than enough allusions to its future importance throughout the course of the book. Dawn of Wonder is primarily concerned with domestic issues in Thirna, but there are threats poised beyond its borders and something ancient is stirring that may connect it all. Jonathan Renshaw also sets up a lot of the players that will direct and influence the actions of Aedan and his group as they take steps toward positions of power and authority. The boys and girls at the royal academy are being prepared for war; what remains to be seen is the greater shape of the war and the powers that will be involved. We know parts, but only pieces of the whole, which is fitting for the first book.
Dawn of Wonder is very much a book in the tradition of greats like Ender’s Game, the King Killer Chronicles and in some instances Harry Potter. Dawn of Wonder is an academy book. A book that takes children in and trains them in abilities, skills and knowledge that set them apart. If you enjoyed stories like the aforementioned, stories of precocious and adventurous children trained by the elite, you will find a great deal to like here. The book definitely ends very well. If you pick this up and find that you are frustrated, please be assured that it is worth sticking with. Despite my issues with Aedan, there is still a gratifying number of moments and growth that leave me optimistic for the future of Aedan and his world. This is a great book and if what we are seeing recently is a sustainable watermark for self published work we are living in very exciting times indeed.