As I was reading The Warden by Daniel Ford, I couldn’t put my finger on what it reminded me of. The back of the book bills it as Twin Peaks but with wizards, but that wasn’t quite right. Eventually, after hours of immersing myself in its mixture of cute slice-of-life drama and horrifying war veteran PTSD, I realized that it was the movie Hot Fuzz. If you are unfamiliar with Edgar Wright’s 2007 film masterpiece, I highly recommend it. Or you could just read this fun weird story and get a similar, but still unique, fix.
Much like Hot Fuzz, The Warden is about an accomplished public servant, in this case, a wizard, who is sent out to the boonies on assignment for mysterious reasons. Our wizard, Aelis, is a wealthy daughter of a noble but wants to take a shot at public service and win her own accolades away from her father’s name. She has the money, connections, and brains to go far in the wizard sector. And, she is one of the only female necromancers to graduate with honors, so surely that is enough to get a posting in one of the grand cities after graduation, right? Apparently not. Aelis is sent out to the ass end of nowhere to monitor the divide between human and orc lands established in a decade-old war. Aelis is not sure what she is going to do when she gets out there, but she suspects it’s going to be a lot more farming and a lot less magic. But, when odd things start occurring around the town she realizes that there might be something to this old military outpost after all.
The Warden is brimming with positives and one small issue that drags it down a bit, but we will get to that in a minute. Let’s start with all the good first. Aelis is a complicated and likable protagonist that is easy to get behind. Her rich-girl background and desire to prove herself make a nice battleground for internal conflict and she shows great growth in even a short period of time. Her POV is a perfect lens to take in the mysterious location she is posted, and she is generally an enjoyable person to be around which makes her interactions with villagers heartwarming. It’s fun watching her hike up her wizarding sleeves and try to do manual labor and win over the recalcitrant members of her posting.
Her magic is cool also. She went to a wizard university and majored in necromancy, but also got minors in enchantment and abjuration. Because of this she feels like she has a wealth of magical knowledge to draw from that follows Ford’s established rules while being diverse and imaginative. All throughout the book she is using magic in small and fun ways that further the story and really sell her identity as a wizard.
The townsfolk are also great supporting characters and make fabulous foils. Something that I enjoyed, in particular, is how organically queer the book is without making it a central plot point. We see numerous LGBTQ+ couples as if it was something unremarkable and it was refreshing to have that baked into the background without being a plot point. It furthers the very calm exploratory vibe that The Warden holds in one of its hands.
Interestingly, in its other hand The Warden holds a lot of conversations about the horrors of war. A lot of the supporting characters in this story are veterans and a lot of them are there to discuss the baggage that comes with serving in the armed forces. While this is always a subject I like to see in books, because there is nothing glorious about war, it was particularly well paired here as a foil to the folksy town vibe the book also has going for it.
The only real issue I had with The Warden was how the narrative was structured. The book is short, with my ARC clocking in at just over 300 pages, but still packed to the brim with fun content. However, the climax of the book happens around page 240 and it feels like that’s where book one should have ended. Instead, we are left with a weirdly long epilogue of sorts that feels like the first part of book two. This section then abruptly ends and I was left confused about the purpose of the last 50 pages. It didn’t make me like the first 240 pages any less but I certainly felt like the whole thing could have been better organized to flow a little better.
All in all, The Warden was a very enjoyable read with a lot of character. Aelis is a fun protagonist and I can’t wait to continue watching her open spooky doors and overturn nefarious rocks out in the countryside. I was very pleased with my time with The Warden and I think you will too.
Rating: The Warden – 8.0/10
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.