Darkstorm, the first installment in M. L. Spencer’s Rhenwars saga, opens 1,000 years in the past, when the magical adepts of the Rhen and Caladorn face an invasion of the dark forces of Xerys, backed by powerful dark mages. With the two nations teetering on the edge of a very mundane war, only the ambassador of Caladorn to the Rhen, Braden Reis, his illicit lover, a magical adept in her own right, and an acolyte of the Rhen have the information and the will to try to forestall disaster, and their efforts hang by a thread.

Darkstorm is a well-imagined fantasy, spectacular world-building complemented by a plot full of twists and double-crosses. The tension between the nations, between the characters, and between the factions is well done, and pervades the entire storyline, adding a nice touch of intrigue to even the simplest interactions. Caladorn offers an interesting cultural simile alongside its role in the plot, a society in which a woman’s power is essentially based on her attractiveness, which adds an unexpected dimension to an already fast-paced book. Fans of epic fantasy have a treat in store with this book, with layers of political intrigue, magical corruption, and compelling anti-heroes melding into a great read.

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