Marshall Ryan Maresca’s debut novel is a brisk and enjoyable bildungsroman blending fantasy and superheroics that should appeal to YA fans of either genre.
Indeed, The Thorn of Dentonhill feels like Batman goes to Hogwarts.
Set in the sprawling city of Maradaine, the novel follows Veranix Calbert, an orphaned student at the ancient university of Maradaine. Discovered by his professor Alimen and provided a full scholarship on behalf of a wizarding society, he struggles with his magical and history classes helped by his roommate Delmin.
But Veranix also harbors a secret.
By night the young student roams the rooftops, a daring vigilante known as “The Thorn,” harrying local criminals with his magic, acrobatic and archery skills, in an attempt to avenge his parents. His father had been the leader of a street gang who was killed by the local crime boss Fenmere, his mother driven mad from Fenmere’s drugs. And Veranix has sworn revenge, disrupting Fenmere’s drug trade and giving his illicit money to charity.
Things kick into gear when Veranix stumbles upon a dockside delivery in the dead of night, which he suspects is a major drug delivery. It turns out, however, to be a pair of mysterious magic items, a cloak and a rope. Armed with this cool costume and utility belt, which greatly enhance his natural abilities, “The Thorn” starts attracting the attention of Fenmere.
As well as the mysterious mage cabal who had ordered the magic items for their own nefarious purposes.
The Thorn of Dentonhill would make a great graphic novel, indeed it often feels more like a comic book than a fantasy novel.
While I mentioned Batman above, and Veranix’s youth points towards Spider-Man, I believe Frank Miller’s Daredevil is a closer analog to The Thorn. His acrobatic skills, his connection to the tough life on the streets, how he is rising above through education (magic, not law in Veranix), his protection of his “turf” and his focus on organized crime bosses all remind me of that groundbreaking comic run from the early ’80s.
Veranix gets a proper comic origin (his archery expert father hid from Fenmere with a traveling circus, where he met Veranix’s mother, a member of a family of acrobats), has a network of informers in the neighborhood gang, which is led by his cousin Colin. He even has his own support network in his roommate and professor, as well as a potential love interest — the groundskeeper’s assistant Kaiana, herself a victim of Fenmere’s drug trade.
At the same time, like comic books, the conflict in The Thorn of Dentonhill feels two dimensional. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad and its easy to discern which is which.
But for an origin story setting up an ongoing series, there is little to complain about. The Thorn of Dentonhill is a light-hearted, fun read and Maresca has introduced a hero with plenty of room to grow, a couple of villains who will provide plenty of conflict in upcoming books.
And, most importantly, he’s created a character that I care enough about to continue reading.