Editorial Reviews

The Self-Publishing Review – 5 out of 5 Stars

The Arrival (Ascension Book 1) is a fantasy epic by Dakota Kemp, and is the winner of the Full Moon Awards 2014 Fantasy Prize.

The book tells the story of several figures in the world of Vrold, where war has begun to tear its peoples apart when brutal attacks spring out and turn up tensions and open old wounds between city-states.

As battle rears its ugly head, heroes – likely and not – begin to answer their individual calls to action across the land, their fates intertwined through a web of secrets: the young officer Kelvar Alexandros who finds himself doubting the cause he has trained to lead the fight and prepared to die for at the edge of his awaited glory; the wily sorceress Telaine Le Fay whose efforts to solve conflicts with negotiation and investigation prove a far deeper well to tap than first imagined; the unconventional mind of Master Jax comes across a secret and a conspiracy that could put everything at risk, if he can prove it, as much as he wishes not to; the village boy Tor who lives a simple life, until Jarwulf – leader of a fearless company of warriors – shows him a fire inside that must take him away from home and into untold dangers. Together the true purpose of these conflicts is revealed, and only when fully realized can hope stand a chance.

While falling into many tropes of the fantasy genre (complete with a plot thread focusing on a farm boy with a warrior’s heart going on an adventure away from home), Arrival has in its favor a vibrant cast that remain distinct from their stereotypes and an excellent style of writing to set it apart. While familiar in form, borrowing a lot of cultural aesthetic and naming conventions from ancient civilization and a lot of usual fantasy concepts, the originality and the altogether craftsmanship of the finished writing really shines out and engages from the start.

Though the prologue chapter, which sets the book up as more of a violent fantasy with shape-shifting and murder as a mainstay, is perhaps not the strongest writing of the piece, it provides a decent hook for the reader to question as we get to the real meat of the read: the characters, and their world.

The book is focused mostly on the characters, their ordeals, their emotions, their development. The war is mostly a stage for the players to act on, until later on, and this is an excellent choice in focus over the battles themselves. What would otherwise be a cut-out stereotype for most of the main characters actually feels real, with a real personality and a history that affects their thoughts and their actions in a visible way. Only occasionally do they feel like a vehicle for plot purposes in the whole 435 page volume, with chunks of background and story falling out of their mouths without as much lead up as might be desired. No real mistakes are really made, but taking into account the bulky size of the book and some unnecessary repetitions here and there, the book could have benefited from some small alterations in places that would have made an considerable, if still rather minor, improvement to the book.

These issues aside, The Arrival is one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read this year, harking back to the likes of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon (et al of Inheritance Cycle) and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. While lofty comparisons, it has the same timeless feel with its own rich world and palpable characterization with familiar aspects that makes it unique and wonderful but easy to read. There are constant gray areas of morality and seeds of doubt sowed from the very beginning in subtle ways, both of which are recognized and questioned by characters with their own knowledge and deduction that makes you feel better connected and believe in their ability to handle themselves.

It all comes to a head when the real conspiracy of the situation is discovered, and suddenly any gray seems much whiter in comparison. It’s a brilliantly spun tale and worth the time to sit down with it if the aforementioned styles appeal to you. The tale does live up to the title of an “epic” as time goes on, but is much more a journey than a simple accomplishment, starting at the foot of a great hill of tension, and is much greater for it in the end.” – James Grimsby, SPR

The San Francisco Book Review – 5 out of 5 Stars

The Arrival – Ascension: Book One tells the tale of a war between two city-states that are unwittingly pitted against each other by a mysterious third party and the epic attempts of a motley crew to obliterate the culprit before it is too late. Telaine Le Fay, sorceress of Gothrond, and her comrades are given an assignment to investigate the hostilities as well as mediate a peace settlement between Tyr and Atia, the two largest powers in the known world of Vrold. Their sleuthing reveals the truth about a repulsive piece of ancient history that will mean the total destruction of Vrold. Little do they know that in order to accomplish their assignment and hopefully seek and destroy this ancient archenemy, they will have to work together with an unlikely group of people. Kemp’s fantasy novel includes an interesting mix of war, magic, romance, and comedy built into an otherworldly archaic setting.

There are plenty of literary tricks up the sleeves of rising fantasy author Dakota Kemp. Kemp has created a well-developed cast of characters that range from epically classic heroes and underdogs to hideously debased villains. For examples of protagonists: the inimitable Telaine Le Fay whose maverick ways precedes her; Malek, her impassive companion; and their comrade, the powerful yet loquacious Korrigan. Equally amusing among the brutish Tarks is their bookish leader, Jarwulf, and Tor, a conscientious and brave peasant boy who tags along with the infamous troop. Kemp’s list of villains is vast array of mythological creatures, such as minotaurs, a lizard-like monster called a drake, and most notably Grief, a heinous liminal creature.

Kemp does not stop there. His narrative, undoubtedly, is full of violence and all things lethal, befitting a war plot. Yet Kemp lightens his story by deftly including irony and comedic bantering between his protagonist characters. While turmoil continues to rise between Tyr and Atia, his heroic characters have to deal with annoyances, such as the playful teasing between Malek and Korrigan, and another interesting set of sideline protagonists, Jax and Firiel, whose romantic discourse is reminiscent of Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood. They also have to learn how to work alongside enemies, like Jarwulf and Telaine. Kemp incorporates all the above literary tools while alternating between a handful of subplots, which keeps Kemp’s narrative fresh and constantly moving.

An incredibly fun and riveting read – even for non-fantasy readers, The Arrival’s cliffhanger ending will definitely leave readers thirsting for its sequel.” – San Francisco Book Review

The Pacific Book Review – 5 out of 5 Stars

The Arrival is a grand adventure for readers. Author Dakota Kemp’s debut novel is a fascinating novel readers will be unable to put down.

The Arrival tells the story of Telaine, a sorceress from Gothrond that tries to stop the war between city states Atia and Tyr in the world of Vrold. She seeks assistance to stop the war from Kelvar, a dedicated Atian soldier, and from Jarwulf, a brutal mercenary that’s her sworn enemy. Her former mentor, Jax, is also a pivotal part of her mission that uncovers a secret that can change Vrold forever.

The novel is an engaging and sprawling epic that draws in readers. The Arrival’s multiple storylines intertwine into one intricate plot that builds suspense. The characters are also well-rounded and compelling. Telaine is a strong, powerful sorceress that defies the one-dimensional portrayal of women with magical powers found in other fantasy novels.

Jarwulf is an exciting anti-hero as a leader of the Viking-like Tarks. His complex character is at times merciless as he slays dragons and humans. However, he has a sensitive side as he takes a young boy,
Tor, under his wing. Jax and his wealthy foil, Firiel, provide comic relief with their flirtatious back-and-forth in the novel.

The Arrival not only has creative characters, but a well-developed world of Vrold. From the majestic boats sailing on the Hechani Sea to the posh parties held in the prestigious cities of Telka, the vivid descriptions by Kemp bring the settings to life in the novel. The settings add to the magic and enchantment in the novel.

The Arrival is an ideal book for adult fantasy fans. Fans of Game of Thrones will love this novel, with enough intrigue, goblins, and dragons to pique their interest. Kemp was influenced by the tales of the Round Table and ancient mythology, and that shows with The Arrival having characters that are reminiscent of the heroes in the King Arthur stories.

The novel addresses heavy issues like war, honor, and loyalty, but all in an entertaining context. The Arrival also has many ribald and comical moments, with the belligerent Tark mercenaries looking for fun and female company. The Arrival has strong language and violent situations in the novel, but they show the reality of the grave situation affecting Tyr and Atia.

The Arrival has an ending that will leave readers eagerly awaiting book two in the series. Ascension is the perfect name for the first book in The Arrival series because it rises above to deliver a mesmerizing novel.” – Pacific Book Review

The Penn Book Review – (No Star Rating Assigned)

“An exciting debut by an author with a natural affinity for fantasy.

As homage to medieval literature, Dakota Kemp has created a story of fantasy, deep philosophy, and blood for soon-to-be loyal readers of the Ascension series. In the world of Vrold, disaster appears to be rising on the horizon, in the form of blood and war. Vrold city-states begin to take innocent lives and the hostilities’ between the native people grow stronger by the hour. When sorceress of Gothrond, Mistress Telanine Le Fay discovers the horrors of Vrold, she finds that a simple negation isn’t going to bring the river of innocent blood to a halt. When she connects with enemies, friends, a young officer trained for this moment, and a mentor from her past, she begins to uncover the truth, but the question is—can she discover the truth before many more lives are lost and the land is faced with devastating destruction?

Seemingly inspired by the works of George R.R. Martin, THE ARRIVAL is a character-driven story, with a lot of thematic action. Fantasy elements propel the plot forward, however it seems that Mr. Kemp is often more intrigued by writing about the friction created among the characters and battling city-states rather than heavy elements of mythological surprise. As each character rises, or rather, ascends to his or her particular duty as a soldier, the secrets within secrets begin to make up “the arrival.” Readers will likely become addicted to these vivid characters and bursting-with-action war scenes. Dakota Kemp will become popular among fantasy readers’ and their bookshelves.

Constant action wills this story forward; THE ARRIVAL is an exciting read for the new adult audience.” – Marcus Gardner, Penn Book Review

The Portland Book Review – 3.5 Stars

“A Well-Written if Not Surprising Fantasy Novel

Telaine is one of the most powerful sorceresses at the Tower. She spends her time traveling across countries and assisting in protecting the lives of the citizens of the world. She has just returned from a harrowing trip when she is given a new and dangerous assignment: she must travel to the Hechani city-states and try to negotiate peace between two warring sides. Telaine sets off at once but soon discovers that the mission is more complicated than she thinks. There is an unknown third party acting as puppeteer and pitting the two cities against each other. Telaine reluctantly joins forces with a brutal mercenary, Jarwulf, to investigate and discover who the mastermind behind the chaos is.

The Arrival is the first novel by author Dakota Kemp and is the first book in his Ascension series. The novel is a solidly written fantasy novel.  The story goes back and forth between Telaine’s story and those of her eventual companions. Additionally there is a secondary plot involving a spy-turned-professor involving a character named Jax and how he stumbles upon the third party mastermind by accident. The alternating storylines are handled well throughout the book. The character of Telaine is interesting – smart, fierce and determined – and she makes the perfect heroine in a fantasy novel. Jarwulf is also intriguing as he is a fierce mercenary for hire but a smart, complicated man who may be more than he seems – the reader is happily left with a desire to know more about him and his history. The story unfolds nicely throughout the book and there aren’t any nonsensical surprises. Jax’s storyline is the least interesting, partly because it’s purpose is cloaked in secrecy for some time from the reader and partly because his companions are more annoying than endearing. The overall plot and interactions aren’t surprising or unique but the book is an enjoyable read. Fans of sci-fi and fantasy will enjoy reading The Arrival.” – Barbara Cothern, Portland Book Review

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