Age of the Dryad by Jacob Sannox. A mysterious shadowy figure emerges from the dark forest, bathed in blue light, carrying a sword and shield.

Age of the Dryad by Jacob Sannox

In Age of the Dryad we return to the fantasy world of Jacob Sannox’s Dark Oak Chronicles. Since this is the second novel in the trilogy, please note this review contains spoilers for the first book in the series, Dark Oak.

Essentially a tale of nature turning upon humanity, in this series we discover what would happen if you REALLY pushed all an Ent’s buttons to try and get a reaction. The dryad Dark Oak has risen up, greater and more terrible than the recently overthrown Dark Lord he was once forced to serve. The human kingdoms have been cast down and broken up as the forest reclaims the Old Continent, forcing the survivors into small farming communities, eking out a meagre subsistence living from the land.

So much fantasy fiction unconsciously reflects the historic established world order without us even thinking about it. The Dark Oak Chronicles challenge all those conventions and Sannox weaves a magical and alien fantasy story with great skill. I loved the otherness of creatures like the naiad water spirits and the forest spirits of the dryads. This is truly inventive fantasy, which leans heavily on classical influences such as Tolkien whilst also producing something completely fresh and new.

This tale starts more confidently than its predecessor, expanding on the lore and history both during the former Dark Lord Awgren’s rule and what took place before his rise to power. Whilst the story is more expansive it’s also more focussed than Dark Oak. Once again the writing is unflinching as Sannox places his unfortunate characters in situations where there are no good choices, so this is certainly one for readers who enjoy their fantasy on the darker side.

Queen Cathryn struggles to adjust to her new status and loss of her husband Lachlan. Her loyal ally Lord Aldwyn yearns for Cathryn to put aside her desire for power, wanting a simple life with the woman he has always loved. In contrast, Cathryn isn’t ready to accept defeat and the character of Sir Tolucan is introduced, charged by Cathryn with finding Dark Oak’s mother tree and destroying him. Tolucan therefore joins the Order of the Silent Knights, who do not even know who their fellow members are, so secret is their task.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel with the introduction of a new main character in Tolucan, since he didn’t feature in Dark Oak. Yet as the story progressed, and Tolucan forms a company with the characters of Feran, Dun and his loyal hound Randolf (who doesn’t love an animal companion in fantasy?), I enjoyed his story. Meanwhile, as the years pass, we learn that Aldwyn, who was a decent man in Dark Oak, is willing to do terrible things to try and preserve the old ways and Cathryn’s increasingly tenuous position as monarch.

Dark Oak is a credible and relatable antagonist, so despite his dark deeds I was still able to feel sympathy for him. The other fascinating part of this story is how the dryads themselves are not united. The dryad Nayr believes Dark Oak is on the wrong path and she sets out to restore order and balance to the world. This makes Rowan, Dark Oak’s former wife and the object of his rage and fury, of particular interest to Nayr.

Rowan must confront the consequences of her actions and the terrible choice she had to make, drowning her baby Bracken to keep the rest of her family safe. Reborn as the naiad Whiteflow, will Bracken ever forgive her mother for sacrificing her? I love this aspect of the story, where death is not the end, especially as this puts a different light on Tolucan’s quest, making the reader ask if they want him to actually succeed in killing Dark Oak.

This is really thoughtful and original fantasy and I think what elevates Sannox’s writing is his capacity to surprise you as the reader. At no point was I able to guess what was going to happen next in the novel, and yet as the story unfolded each event made perfect sense, driven by the actions and nature of the characters involved.

The Dark Oak Chronicles is now a complete trilogy following the release of The Devising earlier this year. Things are left delicately poised at the end of Age of the Dryad, so I’ll be picking up The Devising soon in order to learn how the whole series ends. One thing is for sure – however Sannox wraps up the series, I’ll be left guessing until the turn of the final page.

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Author: Tim Hardie

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