Fair warning: This isn’t your usual fantasy. No dragons and hoards of gold, no elves or dwarves, and no saving the world by killing the evil god. In many ways, this is closer to a superhero novel. It takes place in a single city called Maradaine, the hero’s nemesis is the local drug boss, and the hero’s goal is simply to put the boss out of business. This hero is a talented student of magic, though he’s far better at practical applications than the theory.
Violence: Lots of violence, mostly reminiscent of a Spider-Man or Daredevil story. There are a couple of deaths.
Sexual Content: Occasional mention but no actual acts are described.
Drug/Alcohol Use: A good deal of drug use in this book, but it’s always described in a very negative way. Occasional references to alcohol and taverns.
Spiritual Content: The world appears to have a religion similar to Catholicism. Only one God is mentioned (and capitalized), as well as several saints, saints’ days, and churches named for saints.
Language/Crude Humor: While there is no swearing as we know it, there are a few instances of harsh language. No potty or sexual humor.
Other Negative Content: Some of the drug runners are presented as the kinds of men that would use a woman for their pleasure then discard them. Assassins are also sent after our young hero. Several street gangs are mentioned, including small crimes such as pick-pocketing. Our hero is something of a dark hero, using violence and occasional theft in his quest to stop the drug trade.
Positive Content: The hero ends up thwarting the villain’s plans in the end. Self-sacrifice is often mentioned, as is doing the right thing even when it’s difficult.
I very nearly categorized this as a superhero novel, because that’s what it really feels like. There’s honestly not a lot of the exploration of, say, Shannara or Lord of the Rings. This is an action-packed romp with a magic-using vigilante attacking the local drug dealers, wanting to hurt the drug lord that controls at least part of the city of Maradaine.
Our hero doesn’t have a “code-name” at the beginning of the story, but partway through he tells the drug lord that he intends to be a thorn in his side, and thus picks up the name “The Thorn.” He also picks up (well, okay, steals from the drug lord) a couple of magical artifacts while interrupting a smuggling operation, and decides to use them in his fight.
Unfortunately, he’s also a student of magic at the University of Maradaine and has to be there for classes, which means his late nights sometimes cause problems. Again, very similar to, say, Peter Parker having to balance being Spider-Man with his day job.
It’s obvious that Maradaine is a well-fleshed out setting as the city is almost a character in itself. It has good neighborhoods and bad, street gangs, churches, a university, and parks and monuments. In other words, it is just like thousands of cities across the world. It also has a police force that doesn’t seem to do a lot to stop the drug lord’s business.
Overall, the story is well-written and entertaining. Maresca knows how to drop clues here and there so that at the end it all sort of clicks together and you get the big picture. There are a couple of loose threads, but that’s probably deliberate as a hook for the next book. However, with that said, it is clear that this is the first book in the series; there’s not a lot of sub-plotting going on, though there are a few small but entertaining scenes that don’t connect to the main story (which could be seen as a good or bad thing).
Speaking of the next book, there are currently eight books set in Maradaine, with two more available for pre-order, two trilogies and two duologies that might turn into trilogies themselves. Picking up The Thorn of Dentonhill might just be the start of an enjoyable reading experience that could last a while, because Maresca shows no signs of stopping now.
+ Good winning over evil + Self-sacrifice demonstrated + Caring for family is also demonstrated + Positive, occasional portrayal of priests
- Lots of violence - Vigilante justice - Many crimes depicted, including some on the part of the hero
The Bottom Line
If you want a fantasy that reads like a superhero story, this one comes very highly recommended.