From book cover: At the heart of the city-state of Harmonia lies the castle for which the city was named. It is the fabled home of the four goddesses who formed the world of Elan and then guided its people to enlightenment. For centuries, the castle has been a landmark and tourist attraction, drawing in citizens from the neighboring countries daily. Most consider it a tourist attraction, doubting the legend of its divine origin, though a few still see it as place of holy significance.
It has been a time of peace and prosperity for the city and its people.
That time is over. The castle is no longer empty. The goddesses have returned.
And they are not alone.
Mixing epic fantasy, fable, and a bit of esoteric anachronism, Harmonia challenges the concepts of gods, religion, faith, society, life, good, evil, and humanity in a fast-paced and fun adventure, with a hint of darkness.
Brett Brooks’ Harmonia (The Champions of Elan #1) is one of the more interesting books I’ve read this year, but its appeal to other readers will be determined by whether that reader is a member of a very specific niche audience.
Though the description doesn’t immediately suggest it, Harmonia is definitely a title for the furry crowd. Though many of its main characters are human, its most iconic characters are an anthropomorphic fox, snake, eagle, and bear, and though these character types usually bring to mind children’s tales, this tale is anything but. Not that this is a surprise—the back of the book plainly declares “Parental guidance is advised”—but even this is a bit misleading. “Parental guidance advised” suggests that the ideal reader for this book still looks to parents for input on what they read.
There’s a hot lesbian sex scene between a fox woman and a snake woman in the first chapter of this book, y’all.
I do not recommend it for middle schoolers.
However, older readers who enjoy unique fantasies and furry fandom will find a lot to enjoy in it.
Harmonia has a fascinating world setup. When the goddesses return, the people are naturally surprised by it (being unbelievers), but I was interested to find that the goddesses’ representatives—the aforementioned anthropomorphic animals—are just as surprised. They know as little about their representative goddesses as the people. They know very little about the people, too, and a large part of their conflict is simply figuring out this new world and convincing people that, despite all appearances, they’re not dangerous. Granted, this means that the first half of the book is basically the people and the champions being all “Well now what?” but the unique world-building keeps it from being slow. There are also some truly amusing scenes within, the most notable being one in which Renarde (the fox woman) discovers whiskey for the first time and ends up leading half the city on a drunken chase through the streets.
The true conflict of the story doesn’t emerge until the last third of the book, but when it does, it comes from a truly unexpected place, and it dashes along at a slam-bang pace with plenty of twists and a truly cool villain.
The characters are what drive the story, more so than a particular problem. The champions’ personalities are quite opposite, but play well off each other. Some are stereotyped—I kept picturing Altair as Sam Eagle without much effort, and Renarde is as mischievous and sexy as one might expect a fox-based character to be—but others were pleasant surprises. Rather than being the brash tank that I expected, Porter the bear is shy and socially awkward, and the snake woman Thibann, rather than the slippery deceiver, is the regal voice of reason for the four. Each is also well-characterized through dialogue, with each having a notable verbal quirk or habit. Some flow more naturally than others—Altair’s clipped syllables felt a bit awkward at first, and Renarde’s nonstop giggly babble can become grating at times—but all provide a vivid picture of what the characters sound like, which is something I enjoyed. (After all, how often do authors evoke specific voices in readers’ heads?)
Also, though not a champion character, High Priestess Vera Foiya was one of my favorites, for reasons I’ll leave you to discover for yourself.
Finally, one perpetual concern with indie books is production quality; outside of some (albeit prominent) interior layout quirks, Harmonia ranks among the better-looking self-published books that I’ve seen.
The cover in particular is lovely to look at and can hold its own against other graphical covers of its type. The interior suffers a bit, with enough typos to notice, but few grammatical and punctuation errors. Most noticeably, the paragraphs are inexplicably un-indented, which was slightly distracting for me, but the text itself is easy to read and I really liked the bold design of the chapter-starter pages.
Overall, Harmonia’s not a read for everyone, but if you’re in the furry fandom, or if you enjoy quirky, original fantasy, it’s definitely worth a try. And if you enjoy it, there’s a sequel, Child of Shadows!
Disclosure: Holo Writing may be compensated for sales of products linked in this review.