Basic info:

Author: M.A. Ray

Genre: epic fantasy

Length: 241 pages

Available: Amazon

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services (April 2014)

MY RATING: 4.5 stars

Late last year, M.A. Ray released her debut novel, Hard Luck. We were introduced to a large, diverse cast of characters. Decades before, magic had existed in abundance. It charmed people and things, and was the basis of industry. Then all that collapsed, as we learned in the first volume’s prologue, because of a mysterious runed stone.

The characters all live with the consequences of this mysterious event, and move on with their lives. As in Hard Luck, the author focuses her attention on two pairs of characters, the two religious orders that they serve, and how these characters grow and change and overcome their pasts. The misfit half-elven squire Dingus Parsifal Xavier is the primary protagonist, and The Service is primarily his story. A year has passed since we first met him, and he is up for promotion to full membership in the Knights of the Air. His mentor Sir Vandis Vail faces his own trials, as the rival Order of Aurelius, headquartered in the rival realm of Muscoda, seeks the destruction of the Knights, of whom he is Head. He also has to contend with his own knights who are by and large colorful and independent-minded people.

The other side of the story takes place in Muscoda, where the two leaders of the Order of Aurelius carry as bitter and intense a relationship as any two brothers who are as different as night and day. Lech is devious, twisted, and backstabbing; Krakus is gregarious and decidedly more people-oriented. The destruction of the Muscodan branch of the Knights of the Air in Hard Luck has left Krakus deeply troubled. His sworn brother Lech has apparently gone off the deep end, and it is Krakus’s responsibility to pull him back in. In the meantime, he faces trials no less daunting than Dingus’s–maybe even more so.

The Service is an improvement over Hard Luck in a number of ways. The writing is smoother, the pacing more measured, the author’s voice more secure, the plotting more intricate. I am left with the feeling that both Dingus and Krakus are pawns in a bigger game, as the author has dropped hints of where the series is headed. We learn more about both religious orders, and only indications of the bigger picture. More will be revealed no doubt in future installments in this series, for which I eagerly await.