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Act of Will - A. J. Hartley.

This fantasy by a Shakespearean scholar tells the story of hapless young actor William Hawthorne in a fictional world that, not unlike Elizabethan England, brims with intrigue. Saving his neck by joining a band of heroes led by a warrior possessed of a magical and powerful sword, Hawthorne unwittingly joins a battle against an evil empire bent on crushing everyone to its will. The subsequent story is at times formulaic, the whole piece a pastiche of clichés and plot twists from better-known movies and adventure fiction. Only someone unfamiliar with the genre may be surprised, for example, that Hartley’s foolish and cowardly protagonist learns, over the course of this ripping yarn, to be wise and brave. Hartley’s prose is so graceful, his narrative so taut, and his battle scenes so exciting and well described, however, that one quickly forgives his betimes paint-by-numbers development. All this is especially true of the compulsively readable second half, which unfolds with remarkable elegance and power.

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