Editorial Review: Rise of the Champion by Clara C. Johnson
Rise of the Champion, by Clara C. Johnson, is a fantasy novel with strong friendships and many surprising twists.
Serra, a human orphan, and Finn, the dwarf who found and raised her since childhood, are seeking work in the city of Adhelm. Finn is a loyal and caring companion, although he finds hugs and straightforward affection much too human for his tastes. At first, Serra and Finn’s goals are basically to earn enough for a warm bed, new boots, and some ale, through whatever semi-legal gigs come their way. Although the two have plans to earn bags of gold and retire comfortably, their first assignments are low-level, uh, salvage and reclamation work, reclaiming items and gathering information for hire. They’re not above running errands for coin, either.
In Adhelm, the duo discovers that elves are enslaved. We’re not talking about cute enchanted servants, either, there is real cruelty in this fantasy world. Serra tries to keep her head down, but as she witnesses more cruelty towards the enslaved elves, she’s unable to keep out of it. Serra and Finn may not be law-abiding citizens, but she can’t let the cruelty and abuse go unchecked. I worried that there would be heavy-handed moralizing here, but instead, Serra comes off as a foreigner unable to accept the status quo in her new home. Her desire for liberation propels the rest of the book, even when that’s not the A-plot.
In addition, Serra and Finn’s work for an underworld boss hasn’t gone well. Without revealing too much, because I loved meeting these characters and seeing how the competing loyalties played out, it seems like someone on the crew is a double agent, reporting the crew’s movements and plans. Since Serra and Finn are the newcomers, there’s a lot of suspicion their way. The suspicion is mutual, though, since Serra doesn’t think they’re just stealing baubles from the greedy rich this time...
Danger follows Serra and her friends throughout this book. Serra and Finn join forces with a young human medic, when a failed assignment costs him his position with his crew. When Serra rescues an enslaved elf, Theren, he joins them, too making their group stronger. This diverse set of skills makes them a strong opposing force, as does their ability to make friends and allies as they go, whether they're on land or at sea.
The main themes of this fantasy novel are courage and friendship. The plot comes from Serra and her friends fighting for what’s right, but the real enjoyment in this book is when the friends show kindness and acceptance to each other. At times, they manage to communicate without words, often to work strategies on unsuspecting enemies. Warm affection also makes a nice counterpoint to the dangers faced.
Rise of the Champion reads like a good D&D session. There are enough character deaths, injuries, and general setbacks to add drama, but there’s never doubt that Serra will triumph over evil. There’s a moral distinction between a little thievery or spying for hire, and straight-up evil. Serra and friends might not always be on the law’s side, but they aim to be on the right side, no matter how dangerous it is.
You can get the book on Amazon here.