REVIEW: The Warden by Daniel M. Ford

Daniel M. Ford’s The Warden instills a warm atmosphere into a world full of grit, mystery, and necromancy. The novel embodies very familiar classic fantasy elements, but Ford’s unique twists turn them into something new.

The WardenThe Warden follows Aelis de Lenti, who is both the daughter of a count and a recent graduate of the Magisters’ Lyceum. Armed with her ink, pages, and no-nonsense approach, Aelis always has a plan until she’s sent to Lone Pine, about as far from a city as she can get. Aelis trades her books for tools and faces off against her goat nemesis in an attempt to build trust with the villagers. As Aelis finally achieves a cordial existence, the villagers’ behavior shifts in peculiar ways. Outside the walls of the Lyceum lies age-old secrets and the ancient magics guarding them. Aelis will have to rise to the occasion, standing between the darkness eliciting itself from Lone Pine and the people she’s sworn to protect.

The Warden’s strength lies with Ford’s concepts and ideas. Between the fantastical races and magical terminology, the reader can ground themselves easily in the narrative. As the story builds, those known aspects deviate from predictable directions in interesting and surprising ways. The standout moment for me involves this merge of classic fantastical elements with a fresh modern perspective, centering on a particular tree. Ford’s choice of Aelis’ characterization also helps strengthen the reader’s attachment to the novel. Rather than an experienced warden with vast pools of knowledge and hardened combat skills, Aelis is untried and lacks any real-world applicability. Her reactions to the situations she finds herself in at Lone Pine feel natural and real, making her relatable.

Where some readers might take issue is with the pacing and the page count. Though the book is just over 300 pages, it takes some time for the story to evolve. The Warden’s cozier focus is firmly rooted in the exploration of Lone Pine through Aelis’ eyes. This narrative choice made for a slower start. Paired with the pacing, the book’s brevity might leave readers wanting more. It scratches the surface of its more intriguing elements without diving deep. Though the skeleton of the narrative is present, additional time could have been spent on the connective tissue to flesh out the story more. Granted, this is the first installment of a new series, so a more in-depth expansion might be found in the upcoming sequel, Necrobane.

While it falls on the cozier side of the fantasy genre, grimdark fans will appreciate The Warden for the grit and lore of its world-building. Aelis’ transition from academia to the outside world will also bring about a sense of nostalgia, ringing true in a heartfelt way. Her journey is one that spans many forms in terms of relatability:

“Nothing…can run forever. That is one of the first rules we learn. Nothing, whether made by the skill of a person’s hands or by the craft of their magic, can run indefinitely. Everything has only the amount of power we give it” (89).

Thank you to Tor for sending me a copy of The Warden to review.

Read The Warden by Daniel M. Ford

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Angela Gualtieri

Angela Gualtieri is a former technical editor and project manager with a love of reading. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s traveling. You can find her at: https://www.instagram.com/agnovels/