Sword of the Archon (Shader #1) by D.P. Prior is one of the best self-published fantasy that I’ve stumbled upon. Not to say that it is perfect, because nothing is ever without flaws. It is, however, a dynamic work of genre bending scifi, fantasy and horror that immediately brings to mind Stephen King’s seminal work: The Gunslinger, with its post-apocalyptic world, mysterious ruins of an advanced civilization, its mystical elements, and a main character in Shader who is just as gruff, haunted, and jaded as Roland Deschain.
The story is set in post-apocalyptic Australia, where a terrible cataclysm ended the technological society of the ancients and ushered in a new millennium built upon medieval tools, religion, mythology and magic. But the world never stops changing, and old evils never seem to truly die. So when someone begins uncovering and using the pieces of an ancient relic of power, the wise immediately suspect the return of the Technocrat.
But who is this person?
Sketis Gandaw (a.k.a. The Technocrat) was the foremost scientist that ancient mankind ever produced; a brilliant man who conquered the world through the power of his technological wonders, the money of his worldwide corporations, and the desires of the population to believe in no power greater than their own human logic. Once, the Earth lay at his feet, however, Sektis realized that mankind and the universe itself were flawed – not fit to survive; the very haphazard evolution of life from a big bang beginning the cause of this imperfect nature. And since the universe was not "designed" by some higher power to be imperfect for a reason, Sektis logically decided that it was a mistake that he (the pinnacle of evolution) must correct by "uncreating" everything and unleashing a new creation of mathematical perfection.
In this endeavor, Sektis came tantalizing close before he was stopped. So close, in fact, that the resulting backlash of the Technocrats defeat destroyed the ancient world. But no one is sure that Sektis actually died in the chaos. There are myths that he used his technological prowess to escape to another world and is merely waiting for a future time to return to Earth. And so, a few of the "wise" have ever been vigilant in watching for signs of his return. They have planned for it and even reared heroes to confront Sektis if he ever returns.
Deacon Shader is the latest of these unknowing guardians of the world; he is a warrior monk, trained by powers he didn’t understand to wield the Sword of the Archon and bloodied in the horrible wars against the undead armies of the Liche Lord Blightey. The only problem is that Deacon is a man of mighty paradoxes; one who wishes to live a peaceful existence without a sword in his hand but finds himself always resorting to violence to protect his beliefs of love; a man of the cloth who readily acknowledges that he has grown to have doubts about his own faith. But with the Sword of the Archon in his hands and a desire for peace in his heart, Deacon Shader finds himself unwillingly placed upon a path to confront the Technocrat -- if he has indeed returned.
From this great setup, Mr. Prior weaves a story upon the richly varied post-apocalyptic world he has created. And what a world it is! Shader’s Earth is a complex society, filled with interesting characters, a mix of both science and magic, and ripe for pulse-pounding adventure. Religion is a big part of everyday life, whether it is Shader’s devotion to it or others ridicule for it. And mysteries abound. Who is the technocrat really? How was the ancient world destroyed? What are the hidden, metallic tunnels? Why does it seem that several people have lived for nearly a thousand years? How did magic spring to existence on the Earth? So many mysteries, in fact, that it drives a curious reader to delve deep into the narrative for small clues.
The only thing that did not work for me in this novel was the love story of Shader and Rhiannon. While the romantic relationship is in the past as the story begins, these two have zero chemistry – which just didn’t ring true. Even if their involvement was over, there would still be some lingering attachment or unfinished emotions, but here the majority of their interactions are so negative that you wonder how they could have ever spoken to one another, much less been in love – or lust – with one another. It just didn’t work at all for me, which was a major setback since this romantic attraction drove a good bit of Shader’s story.
All in all, I really enjoyed Sword of the Archon. It had fights, intriguing characters, humor, and a very believable religious character and his struggle with his own faith. When I said earlier that this novel was one of the best indie fantasy I’ve read, I meant it. Sure, there are times when the narrative drags or the characters’ interaction do not work, but overall, this beginning novel of the Deacon Shader Saga was a fun ride. One that I enjoyed so much that I moved on to the second book in the series almost immediately, which isn’t something I always do, and I encourage you to jump on this ride and see if the journey is to your liking as well.