Allow me to list the reasons why I like this story:
It's an unorthodox plot because there is no central villain. In another story with this premise there would be a Big Bad sending out organized mooks to abduct the Damsel In Distress in order to prevent the wedding for some nefarious purpose. Instead, it's a simple escort mission besot by garden variety bandits. The main conflict is internal; Artamos' struggle with self-control, Leona's struggle with her lack of freedom, Falita's desire of a better life etc. It's more down-to-earth because of this and so the characters feel more real.
There's a role playing game feel to this story for a couple reasons. The first is that the bandit attacks aren't part of an organized gang and so they come off as random encounters; the second is 'escort a noble lady' sounds like a mission for a main plot or a side quest. Being a fan of Final Fantasy, this is another check on my list of positives.
The cherry on top is the ending. It fully resolves the story's conflict while remaining open to any number of future stories.
The characters are diverse and well rounded. There's Artamos, heroic and dedicated to his order but still struggles with things like hormones and isn't an unbeatable fighting machine. There's his mentor Rizz, who has great wit and a mentor's gravitas. Falita makes a great contrast to them with her desire for creature comforts and her substantially greater blood thirst. Leona contrasts them all because she's a noble lady and they are (essentially) ninjas. While she's introduced as a traditional Beautiful-Inside-And-Out-Lady she's more devious and rebellious than that.
On another level, there's jurisdiction friction between the Black Knights and the more traditional plate mail knights but the latter are not made into jerkasses for the sake of drama. I appreciate that because it made those knights more like characters in their own right instead of plot props. Like I said earlier, they feel more real because the plot doesn't force them to be something else.
The Black Knight Organization gets a paragraph to itself. They're like medieval black ops; they focus on stealth and scouting and hidden bodyguards duties. Because they answer directly to the king, there's a great deal of secrecy about them. In the sequel sample, one character describes them as 'stepping out of shadows'.
This is the only area where the book losses points. There are a number of spelling errors; 'waste' instead of 'waist' and 'heal' instead of 'heel'. Also, some of the combat scenes have comma splices which occasionally makes them hard to follow. Over all it's minor; nothing an editor couldn't fix and Mr.Hall has informed me that he has proofreaders working on it.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Apprentice" an A
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