BOOK REVIEW: Paladero – Riders of the Thunder Realm by Steven Lochran

BOOK REVIEW: Paladero – Riders of the Thunder Realm by Steven Lochran

Hardie Grant Egmont
July 2016
Paperback, $18.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Middle Grade / Speculative Fiction

7/10

Welcome to Thunder Realm, where cowboy-knights known as paladeros herd dinosaurs during peacetime, and take up arms during war.

Joss, a young orphan, has always wanted to be a paladero – but first he must prove himself by going on The Way, a treacherous journey through the kingdom to retrieve a rare Questing Egg. 

With his trusty raptor Azof by his side, Joss will face off against witches, bloodthirsty monsters and even his own brethren to learn what it truly means to be a paladero – all while uncovering a dark conspiracy at the heart of the kingdom.

 

The common wisdom was that you didn’t run the Gauntlet with a mount any younger than five, for fear that the untested animal would bolt. Azof was only two years old, but then Joss himself was only fifteen.
The ‘common wisdom’ would say that he was too young to be doing this as well. And with the King of the Thunder Lizards bearing down on him, its chin dripping with drool, he had to admit that maybe common wisdom was right.

The Riders of the Thunder Realm, while billed as middle grade fantasy first and foremost, has a lot more to it than that.

It’s true, the foundation has a certain fantasy essence, what with the runes, magic, Surs and Prentices (a take on knights and squires), and various types of fae (the spriggans of the earth, the sylphs of the air, the selkies of the water).

‘The spriggans used magical barriers to keep their herds from straying and their enemies from invading, and it’s those same barriers that have kept Thunder Realm from ever constructing any significant infrastructure. The train designers thought their refined technology would be enough to circumvent the archaic spellcraft. They were wrong. And nearly a thousand souls were lost due to their hubris.’

but there’s also a touch of science fiction, with one of the Orders riding hovering bikes rather than living mounts, mechanoids, entertainment screens, and a kind of electronic tablet. Oh, and then there are the dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs are used as mounts, for entertainment, and even as food.

Even with the aching relief that he felt at not being tyrannosaur chow, Joss couldn’t help sparing a thought for the big dumb animal. It hadn’t asked to be a part of any of this. All it had done was act on instinct, just the same as he had.

There is an underlying message of kindness, environmentalism, and support of non-binary people, which is subtle but handled well,especially from the point of view of a character who has lived life believing in absolutes and suddenly finding those foundations challenged.

Similarities can be found with the likes of Star Wars and Harry Potter, complete with orphan kid going on to join a special kind of education and succeed despite the odds.

There are some instances in which the main character makes obviously silly decisions after it has been explained to the reader why they’re silly decisions, perhaps in an attempt to drop clues for the reader; the passage of time is not particularly evident in the narrative which leaves most of the relationships feeling unfounded; and things do come a little too easily to Joss.

But those couple of minor issues aside, The Riders of the Thunder Realm is an enjoyable, quick read with some lovely imagery.

The skeletal dragon had been a bewildering sight at a distance. In close quarters, it was something else altogether. Chunks of flesh hung from its cobwebbed bones, its empty eye sockets glowing hot as it searched the room blindly, its nostrils billowing smoke. It was an abomination, a thing of black magic, and this woman was its mistress.

Though the fountain was bone dry, the man’s hair and clothes were drenched. He looked to be weeping, his head and shoulders shaking, but Joss heard no noise. It reminded him of the jesters who used to perform on the thoroughfares of Makepeace, miming sadness or joy as the story they were telling demanded it, their emotions as exaggerated as they could make them.

But what differentiates it from the slew of fantasy novels out there (middle grade or otherwise) is the combining of genres, good messages and discussions, and in not taking itself too seriously.

‘I think it needs to be said that we don’t even know this person’s name, let alone that we can trust her …’ Zeke muttered from beside Joss, his face tight with worry. After the mantises’ attack he had doubled back to find the spriggan helping Drake up into his saddle, preparing to lead them all to what she said would be a safe place. 
‘I am Bittersweet,’ the emerald-haired woman called out without looking back, her pointed ears pinned back like a cat’s.
‘And I’m relentlessly charming, for all that’s worth,’ Zeke replied, unabashed at having been overheard.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Paladero - Riders of the Thunder Realm by Steven Lochran

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