Joshua Winning – Sentinel

joshuawinning-sentinel“What is a Sentinel? A guard. A detective. A killer…”

They are the world’s best-kept secret – an underground society whose eternal cause is to protect the world against the dark creatures and evil forces that inhabit the night.

Now Sentinels are being targeted, murdered and turned as the fury of an ancient evil is unleashed once more. And when 15-year-old Nicholas Hallow’s parents are killed in a train crash, the teenager is drawn into a desperate struggle against malevolent powers.

Sentinel is the first book in Joshua Winning’s YA fantasy trilogy and it was the cover combined with the blurb that persuaded me to accept this one for review. I’m glad I did as I really enjoyed Sentinel, reading it in two sittings. Nicholas makes for a sympathetic character and his story, while certainly filled with familiar tropes – orphan boy, check; grand destiny, check; magical companions, check – is enjoyable and interesting. The book isn’t flawless, but the good definitely outweighed the flaws. 

My main problem with Sentinel was the lack of communication between characters. A running theme in the story is the fact that everyone is trying to protect Nicholas by not telling him what is going on, leading to massive misunderstandings, frustration, and Nicholas doing exactly what he shouldn’t, while trying to find out what is going on. Though I understood that this was a way to parse out exposition and to let Nicholas and the reader discover this hidden world together, for me it was an exercise in frustration, because I thought Sam, Jessica and the rest should just tell him what was going on already.

This limited form of exposition results in a mixed bag of world building as well. Winning actually does some interesting things with his world, but as the reader is just thrown into the deep end in the parts told from Sam’s viewpoint, the explanations for what is actually going on and who’s who that we are supposed to get through Nicholas – which come later and aren’t very complete – serve to make things feel more confused and like there is so much more that we are missing. Since Nicholas ends the book as a true Sentinel-in-training, my hope is that this problem will be resolved in the next book when Nicholas hopefully will learn more about the true nature of the Sentinels, the Trinity, and the Dark Prophets.

Yet despite those expositionary problems, the book kept me reading and drawing me on to discover what would happen next. I wanted to know more about the Sentinels and about Nicholas’ place among them. I also cared about Nicholas as well. I though Winning drew him very well, from his shocked retreat into himself after he loses his parents, to his sullen anger at the world later on, and his throwing himself into figuring out this Sentinel business to push away thinking of his parents. I really liked Nicholas and found it easy to root for him. Sam, an elderly friend of his parents and the one who arranges for Nicholas’ care, was equally sympathetic and felt as the more active character of the two. He’s the one that makes decisions and arranges things, for Nicholas and for others, of all of the characters he felt like the one with the most agency.

My favourite character, however, was Isabel. She is just so much fun and such a great foil for Nicholas. This seemingly cantankerous old woman is the only one who takes Nicholas at face value and tells him what he needs to know. I really liked her and I’m really excited to know that she’ll have a large role in the next book as well.

The plot is well-paced and leaves both Nicholas and the reader time to assimilate events and information by giving them moments of calm within the storm. Still, it also feels as if Sentinel is only the barest beginning and that the true over-arcing challenge will only become clear in the second book Ruins. As such, while Sentinel can be read as a standalone, it doesn’t form a fully satisfying story on its own.

Sentinel has its problems, but on the whole I very much enjoyed it. Winning certainly knows how to hook his reader and I look forward to discovering more about the Sentinels and their world in the next book, Ruins, which will be released in May.

This book was provided for review by the author.