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Reviewed by Caitlin Lyle Farley for Readers' Favorite
Melkorka leads the reader into Joshua Robertson’s The Kaelandur Series with an epic quest. Branimir Baran is a Kras, a race enslaved by the Highborn men of the North for generations. Much of the history and culture of his own people is lost to him, and the ways of the magic-wielding Highborn are often incomprehensible. The Highborn do not craft weapons, yet Branimir witnesses the forging of the dagger, Kaelandur, destined to execute Nedezhda, a Highborn found guilty of practising death magic. On the eve of Nedezhda’s execution, a horde of demons descends from the crags and falls upon the Highborn fortress of Melkorka. The Highborn and their Kras slaves are all but destroyed in the battle, leaving only a handful of Highborn and Branimir to seek out the Tree of Life and prevent Nedezhda and her demons from destroying it.
The magic system of the Highborn is simple yet captivating, and impacts on the plot of Melkorka in unexpected ways. Branimir is a likable character, but his most compelling aspect is the way generations of slavery have coupled his sense of heritage to servitude. This intertwines with his desperation to know about Kras civilisation and culture prior to their enslavement to form a subtle yet complex internal conflict. Dorofej’s tendency to voice every snarky thought without an ounce of tact never fails to entertain while his kindness towards Branimir is endearing. Joshua Robertson takes an alternative route with regard to the characters' moral compasses, emphasising the ideal that the lives of the many outweigh those of the few. The result is refreshing, as it prevents the rise of that tiresome plot device wherein the hero dumps the world-saving quest in favour of saving family or friends, usually with disastrous results.