Review | Paladin Unbound – Jeffrey Speight

About the Book

The last of a dying breed, a holy warrior must rise up against a growing darkness in Evelium.

The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process.

As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help.

Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything?

334 pages 
Published on July 1, 2021
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I go into books these days purposefully not looking into them. I don’t usually even want to know what they are about. I think half the fun, at least for me, is reading a book and then getting this “ah ha” moment where the light in my dusty attic turns on and I say, “Oh, so that’s what this book is about.” 

Paladin Unbound was sent to me by the author, and I was really excited to read it. I didn’t know much about it aside from the fact that I’ve seen it in the hands of a lot readers I respect, which intrigued me. Also, I enjoy stories about paladins. They remind me of Ye Olde D&D days.

So, that’s about all I knew before diving in. 

In truth, this was one of those books that hit me right when I needed it to. It has hearkens unto the glory days of quest fantasy, and yet there are a lot of new elements thrown in for good measure. A sort of interesting blent of horror and fantasy at times. Fast paced, with a lot of action the book instantly pulled me in, and it relentlessly dragged me along until the very last page.

Now, I know I’ve been on a bit of a kick recently regarding fantasy that reminded me of my fantasy-reading roots, and I will say this felt a lot like one of those books. Some elements of the story, and the paladin himself, reminded me a lot of those days when I actually had friends (ha ha), and we played D&D in the library. Also, though, of those first books in the genre I read and fell in love with. I’ve really been on the look for stuff like that recently.

Somehow, Speight managed to take all these elements that I love so much and make them his own, never making this book feel borrowed, or too-similar to anything else. The worldbuilding, for example, was superbly done. Carefully crafted, the world, at least on the surface, feels a lot like your traditional fantasy world. However, it doesn’t take long for the reader to see the darkness lurking behind so much of what you’re presented. A dark and storied past is hinted at, adding not just depth but a bit of texture to everything that transpires. I loved how history was dealt with in the book, and the way it seemed to touch every part of Paladin Unbound in subtle and not so subtle ways.

Umhra was a character I absolutely loved. A half-blood orc, Umhra doesn’t really have the easiest go at it. He faces a lot of prejudice in his day-to-day life, which Speight shows in a way that is both poignant and carefully done. Often passed over for jobs, I got the feeling that Umhra is sort of just hanging on. Despite that, however, Umhra might be one of the most positive characters I’ve read in a long time. He felt like the beating heart of this book. He had goals and desires, and a lot of personal confusion and decisions to make, but at the heart of it all, his motivation was personal and that personal motivation really worked for me. It made the entire story matter in a way it might not have otherwise.

The magic system was one I really enjoyed too, because there were a lot of times when Speight just let magic be magical because it was magic. I think, sometimes, in a lot of books like this, the plot gets bogged down by details, and while there are details here, and nothing is quite so nebulous as you might anticipate, Speight also seems to know when he just needs to let something be magical because it is. There’s a few different kinds here, divine magic, nature magic, sometimes objects can be imbued with magic. I loved how it added to the story, never really bogging down the plot or pace to make room for itself at the table. It was a nice addition to, rather than a defining characteristic of.

The plot is breakneck. Once our merry band of mercenaries is off on their task, things move along relentlessly. You’ll read about places you don’t expect to go and see things you don’t anticipate. Everything drives toward this incredible finale that is really just superb. For a fast, short(ish) book, I was amazed by how much was covered in the space of these pages. Speight keeps the elements of his book balanced, despite the quick pace, effortlessly weaving together the action and adventure with character development and dark fantasy elements that created something that both reminded me of the days I’d stay up way too late reading Dungeons and Dragons books all night, and gave me a feel for something new and all the author’s own as well.

Paladin Unbound really made an impression on me. I devoured it in the way I haven’t devoured a book in a long time. I could feel the author’s passion on each page. More, it reminded me of my early fantasy days when I would devour book after book, reading late into the night just so I could enjoy one more chapter. I haven’t done that in a while.

5/5 stars