Title: Gatekeepers: Crusade of the Emerald Gale
Author: Matt Starr
Genre(s): Fantasy, Christian
Print Length: 230 Pages
Release Date: January 3, 2022
Formats: ebook, Print
Available On: Amazon
Thank you, Matt Starr, for sending me a copy of your book to review!
The demon horsemen tear the surface of the planet apart in their war for domination, one against the other, bleeding the nations of the land to extinction.
Ang’Gelian berserkers attack will-o-the-wisps and the families they accompany, and no one knows why. Hiroc, the Emerald Gale, is unleashed to rescue the victims and solve the mystery. His determination is undeterred until he rescues a young widow and promises to reunite her with her daughter. To do so, he will need the help from exiled gods, and their service does not come free.
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a mythology nerd. Though the Bible is wholly true and the infallible guide to both the ancient and modern world, folklore remains a fascinating window into the mindsets, possible histories, and lifestyles of cultures long lost. I certainly have my favorites. However, due to my Scottish heritage, Celtic mythology holds a special place for me. You can guess then that I was intrigued with Matt Starr’s Gatekeepers: Crusade of the Emerald Gale. Hiroc’s mission to rid a region’s worth of Celtic mythical monsters seemed very very promising, yet such an undertaking would be no easy feat to pull off. Thankfully, this book impressed me in many ways—especially in its worldbuilding.
Worldbuilding is a staple of fantasy, and few genres live or die by it quite as hard as it does. Do you know what separates worldbuilding professionals from imaginative school kids? Research. Gobs of it. For if their fantasy is to be fully immersive, its author must learn and merge a whole litany of subjects to engineer a living, breathing society. Matt Starr, though (I’m pleased to say), proved himself a strong engineer. I worried if his massive variance of peoples, cities, and kingdoms would cheapen them at first. I expected bunches of cookie cutter locales. Thankfully, the quantity didn’t harm the quality. Each area had an elaborate history. Each culture observed traditions that fully complimented their environment. Everywhere the story moved, no place came across as a flat cardboard cutout. They possessed dimension and substance, and Matt’s incorporation of European folklore was doubly stupendous.
Of course, good locations are empty without people to live in them. Good thing then that Crusade of the Emerald Gale didn’t fail in the character department. Hiroc performed well as our main protagonist. He’s a skilled (if inexperienced) warrior, itching to prove himself on his first solo mission. Tis a very familiar hero-type, yet it’s serviceable. Then we have Eathel, the young widow who’s determined to recover her stolen daughter. While naïve at times, she brings a motherly levelheadedness that balances out Hiroc’s impulsiveness. Then there’s my favorite character: Flicker. This tiny will-o’the-wisp carries charm by the pound! He’s feisty. He’s funny. He’s got an infectious innocence. He pretty much stole the show! In fact, I doubly pat Matt Starr’s back for his portrayal of the will-o’the-wisps overall. Their appearance; their sign language; their mannerisms; all oozed with a brilliant creativity that made a very familiar creature feel completely original! That, my friends, is a serious achievement! The villains and side characters lagged a teeny bit in comparison, though. It’s not like they were poorly written. They did what they needed to do, but that’s just it. They enter; do their shtick; then leave. That’s not a negative thing technically. Main casts should maintain prominence. However, most characters should effect the plot in some way, and for this book, most side characters could’ve been cut with little loss. It’s twice as problematic during emotional scenes. Without the necessary time to become attached to certain characters, I couldn’t get personally invested in some moments, rendering the intended drama hollow. Even the villains, though despicably cruel, didn’t impact me much. Don’t get me wrong. They were good villains. They just weren’t ‘Darth Vader’ levels of memorable. Still, Matt did a decent job presenting a decent cast.
Now, like any big road trip, good destinations and traveling companions can’t always make up for uncomfortable rides, and I admit Crusade of the Emerald Gale had a few bumps. To start with, while Matt’s elaborate worldbuilding is his best strength, his info distribution could’ve been a lot better. Sometimes he dumped too much exposition all at once, leaving me confused and lost. Other times, the context arrived too late to help engross me in some scenes as much as I could’ve been. Yeah, that may sound picky. Good info distribution is a hard mark to hit, but maintaining unbroken story immersion requires it. Then there were other small issues that undermined some of the book’s positives. For example, Hiroc, though generally likable, made a couple maddeningly stupid decisions that felt like ‘plot-contrived idiocy’. Confusing sentence structures and the occasional typo disrupted the imagery too, making things difficult follow. Lastly, the narrative’s breakneck pace and conga line of mini-adventures felt rather un-cohesive. So un-cohesive in fact that I lost sight of the narrative’s main goal several times. It kinda felt like the story wandered around aimless. However, (in interests of a folktale experience) using this episodic approach might have actually been a stroke of genius on the author’s part. More on that in a minute.
First though, allow me to give a few content warnings. Gatekeepers: Crusade of the Emerald Gale is not for younger readers. I have a fairly high ‘violence’ threshold, yet the gore here twisted my stomach a bit. Slayings are described in detail. Organs and blood sprays a lot. It’s a bit much for some people. A few minor exclamatory remarks are used once in a while too, and as expected for a mythological tale, supernatural beings are present. Some of which wouldn’t fit in a Biblical framework. We’re talking ghostly banshees, gods, demi-gods, and the mentioning of demons. Magic is also a prominent element. Now, the heroes’ magic does align closer with classic fantasy magic—a.k.a. pure fiction fluff. The villains, however, engage in occult-styled witchcraft that runs closer to genuine practice. Deep Biblical, prayerful consideration should be applied when deciding whether or not anything I’ve mentioned here is potentially harmful to your spiritual walk. As a rule of thumb though, a family read Crusade of the Emerald Gale is not.
In conclusion, the tale of young Hiroc rescuing a countryside from ravenous berserkers and their sorcerous leaders is an adventure that sweeps you across multiple lands and generates an impressive episodic feel. Sure, it gets rather grisly for sensitive readers. Imagery wasn’t consistently crisp, and the info dumping needed better execution. However, you do get a vibrant world teaming with life, imaginative characters, and some good action. Even when the pacing and flow felt choppy, you could argue that this book’s ‘broken-episode’ feel is actually appropriate for a modern-day mythological tale! It’s really kinda clever if you think about it. What better way to pay homage to traditional folktales than to break from the modern style of a singular, focused plot in order to mimic the older model of stringing smaller adventures together? To be fair, I’m not sure if Matt intended that effect on purpose or not. Regardless, I think he’s carved his own path with his book that separates from the usual fare. You could say Gatekeepers: Crusade of the Emerald Gale is a modern-flavored love letter to yesteryear myths. That’s something I personally want to see more of, and I look forward to hearing where he’s taking his Gatekeepers series next!
Total — 56%
Biblical Integrity: 5/10
Total — 62%
Overall Average Score — 59%
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