The Adventurers Guild

Disclosure: Disney-Hyperion sent me a copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review, and is partnering with me for a giveaway!

The Adventurers Guild is the first book in a new series about a group of teenagers who—not necessarily by choice—end up in the guild that protects their town from the Dangers that threaten to destroy it. Walled and isolated since the catastrophic Day of Dangers, residents of Freestone know little about the world outside their walls. The members of the Adventurers Guild risk their lives and face these nightmares to protect the town.

A lot of the kids in my life are playing Dungeons & Dragons and similar games, and there is a lot in this book that will appeal to them. You could easily set a campaign in this world. This isn’t surprising, as the two authors also play Dungeons & Dragons. But you don’t need to be familiar with the game to enjoy and understand the novel. (Authors Nick and Zack answered some geeky questions for me about D&D and The Adventurers Guild)

Somewhat refreshingly for books in this genre, the kids are never abandoned by the grown ups. That’s not to say they’re all trustworthy or have the kids’ best interests at heart, but as the kids face truly dire threats, there are adults there to help them out, without taking the agency of the story away from them. Even when the kids sneak out on their own, the adults learn about it and come to help them out.

The point of view switches between Zed and Brock, who are best friends. Usually this works well, but occasionally I found myself wishing we saw certain scenes from the other side and once it meant not reading about a particular action scene and just hearing about the aftermath. But it’s a minor quibble at worst. The Adventurers Guild is a beautiful book with maps and creature descriptions in the end papers. The beginning of each chapter has sketch of a fox (Zed) or a spider (Brock).

This is the first novel in a series, and although it brings this particular story arc more or less to a close, it ends on a cliffhanger setting up the next novel, which isn’t available yet. Some readers may find this distressing!

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid

Diversity and Prejudice in Freestone

Without making a big deal about it, characters are described with a variety of skin tones and hair and eye colors. The residents of Freestone are primarily human, and color of skin appears to have no impact on how individuals are viewed.

There’s a community of dwarves descended from the dwarves who were trapped in the city on the Day of Dangers. They’re seen as different, but not less.

Zed, on the other hand, is the only person in Freestone with elf heritage, and his pointed ears make him a bit of a target. Since the elves of another town are respected, it seems that Zed’s mixed blood and the fact that his human mother wasn’t married to his elven father play a role in this. Also, the traitor of Freestone on the Day of Dangers was a half-elf, which adds to Zed being seen as potential trouble.

Classism

Race may not be a big deal in Freestone, but class is everything. Zed is from the servant class, who live in the outskirts of the town and, as Brock realizes later, closest to the walls. They would be sacrificed as another line of defense if the walls were breached.

Brock is of the merchant class, with different opportunities and a much nicer place to live closer to the center of the city. His mother frowns on her son being friends with the half-elf peasant. Brock and Zed met because Zed’s mother was a servant in Brock’s house. The merchants seem to view people as commodities to be used.

Liza and her twin Micah are noble, with many advantages and often an attitude to go with it. Liza tries to overcome her noble upbringing, but also steps up into a leadership role even when her peers would prefer she didn’t. Micah uses his noble standing as a weapon.

Jett is a dwarf, which seems to keep him out of the class system.

The guildless—those not chosen by a guild or removed from a guild—are the lowest of the low, regardless of the class they grew up in.

Class doesn’t matter in the Adventurers Guild, and this allows the kids—primarily Brock—to reflect on the problems of the class system in Freestone.

Sexism

Alabasal Frond is the leader of the Adventurers Guild. She’s a warrior with a scarred face and a harsh attitude. This is definitely an unusual role for a woman. She doesn’t have the respect for those in authority that they seem to think she should, and there seems to be some sexism involved in how some of them view her.

Liza chose to join the Adventurers Guild because the guild of the knights would never take a girl. She had to train in secret and approached Frond personally to ensure that she would be chosen by the Adventurers Guild, because it was the only place that she could use her training.

Liza is the only girl in the core group, and she’s seen as a romantic possibility by both Jett and Brock. Since we don’t see anything from her point of view, this objectifies her a bit.

Choice

It often seems like the kids don’t have a say in what happens to them. Decisions are routinely made that benefit others, and the needs and desires of the kids mean very little. These clever kids are able to work around that to some extent and they do learn that they’re making a difference where they are, but they are still subject to the whims of adults.

Bullies

Micah is a horrible bully. He feels entitled to do this because he’s a noble. He is certain he’ll be accepted as a knight. All of his bullying comes back to him—he’s rejected by the knights and accepted into a guild that strips him of his class and family name. Then his plot starts to get more interesting and complicated…the bully is capable of growth, although we don’t see much of it in this novel. It’s just setting the groundwork.

Honesty

Brock isn’t the most honest of people. He plans to lie to his parents about what happened to the money they gave him. He picks a pocket. He ends up working as a spy, which he can’t tell anyone and he feels like he’s betraying Zed by keeping this secret. However, his cleverness and mostly harmless deviousness are definitely among his strengths.

Someone is sabotaging the wards that protect Freestone. None of the adults seem to trust each other, and they pass that uncertainty on to the kids (of course they all think the kids should trust them). There are secrets and lies and black markets and all kinds of stuff going on in the background.

Family and Friends

Zed’s mom worries about him. She’s a good parent, although maybe a little smothering. Brock is overly protective of Zed, too. He’s highly motivated by trying to save his friend, even if Zed doesn’t think he needs saving.

Brock’s dad won’t stand up to the guild master when he makes dangerous demands of Brock. Then he asks Brock to lie to his mother, but Brock tells the truth and then smirks as his parents get into a fight. Toward the end of the novel, Brock’s mom seems to be coming around a bit in the parenting department.

Liza and Micah’s parents seem amazingly unconcerned about the fates of their children. We hear about how they raised their kids to fulfill certain expectations, but when it all seems to fall apart, the parents don’t seem to be anywhere to be found.

All the kids put themselves in danger to try to save each other. Jett is a minor character, but he’s good friends with both Brock and Zed. When Brock is in danger, Jett throws himself in front of it and is badly injured in the process.

Frond doesn’t seem like much of a parental figure as she throws the kids into dangerous situations, but she’s always there to support them and protect them, even if maternal hugs are really not her thing.

Injuries and Disability

Jett is really badly injured when he throws himself in front of an attack that would have killed Brock. It happens pretty early in the book, and then Jett is out of the action. We get glimpses of his struggle even though he puts on a brave face for his friends. There’s fear he’ll be paralyzed. In the end, his leg is amputated, but he’s learning to walk again. There is magical healing, and the healers did everything they could for him, but it just wasn’t enough—they saved his life but couldn’t heal him fully.

Nightmare Fuel and Death

The Dangers are pretty terrifying. There are some typical things—kobolds, naga, slime—but then there are these things that are insectoid but THEY HIDE INSIDE HUMAN SHELLS! So you think it’s a human being, maybe someone you know and trust, and it’s actually a huge bug thing that wants to kill you!

The slime slowly devours a creeper. It’s very clear that dying by slime is slow, painful, and gruesome. It’s not a gory scene, but active imaginations will have plenty to work with.

Public executions are a thing in Freestone. We don’t see one, but do learn that it’s frequently the guildless who are executed.

When the kids see their first squirrel, it’s a cute funny scene—until Frond takes its head off because it might be corrupted. Again, it’s not gory, but a fondness for animals might make the scene a little hard to take.

Recommendation

Age range matters less than what your kid finds scary. It’s not a horror book at all, but some of the monsters freaked me out a bit! The reading level isn’t overly simplistic, nor is it terribly difficult, so it suits a wide range of readers probably starting around 8 or 9. It would also be good for older reluctant readers, especially those who enjoy fantasy roleplaying games, both tabletop and video games. I enjoyed it and plan to share it with a bunch of the kids in my life.

 

The Adventurers Guild by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos
Published in 2017 by Disney Hyperion
First in a series
Read a hard copy provided by the publisher

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