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Surrealistic Planet

Review of Kraken Rider Z

Kraken Rider Z by Dyrk Ashton and David Estes establishes new territory in the fantasy genre. It is unlike anything I'd read before - and that's a really good thing! To define what I mean by this new territory, I've had to create a new sub-genre. Where 'grimdark' defines stories of nihilism, dark anti-heroes and worlds ruled by misery, Kraken Rider Z is its antithesis. This is a story full of goodness. People strive to do the right thing. The tone of the story is light, gentle, it's full of hope. I've labelled it 'joy-light' for these reasons.

So much of this positivity arises out of characters supporting one another. So many minor characters are ready to encourage and support Zee and Jessop, our two protagonists. And why not? They're both friendly, eager for a challenge, ready to defend those in need of their help. Attitudes which arise out of the bond they share. The villains of the story are often distant, their threat is very real but we don't encounter it first hand, instead we're eye witnesses. The reader has little contact with them, quite often all we get are the occasional insults, slurs or surprised reactions. Their negativity doesn't enter the world in the way it might normally.

A quarter of the way through the story, I said to Dyrk that I had engaged with the story's two protagonists so eagerly, I couldn't stand for anything horrible to happen to them. I think it's a reflection of how dark fantasy has led us to expect betrayal, suffering, violence that is visceral and unwarranted. What excited me, as the story developed, was how Zee and Jessop dealt with every threat and challenge in such positive ways. It helped them to develop.

This is a story about growth. Zee is a hullscrubber, he's no one. We meet him as a little kid who finds a strange creature in a rockpool and looks after it. His family are poor but Zee yearns to become a Knight and to ride a dragon like the best of them. His growth comes from two aspects of his character. He is curious-minded. Eager to learn, he readily absorbs everything, no matter how difficult it might be. Secondly, he's courageous. For that first quality to truly exist, he needs to be brave. Some learning can be risky, even dangerous. These two qualities are replicated in Jessop, the strange creature he finds. It's partly why their bond forms in the first place, they are kindred spirits. It's Old Yeller but without the tragic ending, or Kestral for a Knave, (also without the tragic ending!) Or perhaps, more accurately, it's Babe - a farmer and his sheep-pig.

Growth also involves developing with the help of others. This is where the 'joy-light' quality is seen early on. After being separated for ten years, the pair find each other again. Their continued growth relies on the support, encouragement and friendship of lother characters. Some of them are people of consequence, others who are simply 'good people'. (Yeah, even though they may be dragons and the like!)

One of the things I love about this book is its magic system. I've deliberately not defined Zee and Jessop so as not to spoil the storytelling. The magic system is partly drived from who and what they are but is also too complex to define in this review. Magic is unlike anything you'll find in any other story. Again, it's magic with a 'joy-light' dimension that is derived from a form of personal energy, reflective of the kind of person they were. It is a magical system with a lot of rules, it needs training and discipline. Much of the story is about how Zee and Jessop progress through these stages. During their development, they encounter people who thwart them, bully them too. But we're never left in any doubt that these experiences will only ever strengthen them.

The most heart-warming part of the story is the relationship between Zee and Jessop. Their's is the kind of friendship we all search for and probably seldom find. There is love. Again, an element so infrequently found in stories. We experience it in their private, shared dialogue, a result of their special bond.

I've chosen to say little about the story because of how it is tied so closely to the development of Zee and Jessop - and their bond. What we see is almost their biography, to highlight an incident is to spoil that event and its significance to the narrative. Part of the joy of this story is being a witness to the development of its two protagonists. Suffice to say, the pace never lets up. It's relentless in leading Zee, Jessup and all the others (plus the reader) to a climax which is breathtaking in its scale and heart-rending in its emotional impact.

I've long been a fan of Dyrk Ashton. His Paternus series remains in my all-time Top Three (alongside Richard Morgan and Raymond Feist). If I'm honest, I really wondered if he could match it. How do you better perfection? The answer sounds simple, it isn't. You write a very different story with a new and original style. One that is like nothing like anyone has done before. That takes real talent and imagination.

This is the first story in a longer tale. I have my ideas about where things will go next and I can't wait to find out. I cannot recommend this story highly enough. Kraken Rider Z is feel-good fantasy at its best. It's exciting, heart-warming and original. Beyond that, it leaves you wishing this world could be just as positive, that people could be as kind, nurturing and supportive as those in this book. Read it, savour it. A new fantasy sub-genre has arrived and it's Joy-Light.

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