In this riveting young adult fantasy, two nations—the Eisenberge and Alkilion—have long been at war, spurred on by a vicious act performed by the Eisenberge’s malevolent ruler, the Sorceress. Now, the Sorceress and her apprentices seek to end the conflict between the neighboring countries by laying utter waste to Alkilion. In an effort to aid her mistress, Athala, one of two apprentices, abducts the Alkite princess with the intention of inciting the armies of Alkilion to attack the Eisenberge. Little does Athala know that she has single-handedly destroyed the Sorceress’s long-laid plans of conquest, putting her very country’s future at risk. Sentenced to death, Athala is saved by a young Alkite soldier named Zimri, who has been sent to rescue the imprisoned princess from the Sorceress. Together, Athala and Zimri form an uneasy truce and set out to destroy the darkness at the heart of the Eisenberge. But will they be destroyed by their own secrets along the way?
The Sorceress’s Apprentice is a darkly charming trip through familiar fantastical landscapes. Damsels in distress, knights-errant, evil sorceresses—all are present in some form in Gardner’s novel, though they each receive a welcome refurbishment that lends this young adult fantasy a charm all its own. Gardner builds up a tightly wound tale around his two central characters, showing how quickly an individual’s perspective can change when everything comes crashing down around them – or, more likely, when they are shown the error of their ways. Other interesting touches are employed to elevate the mystique of Gardner’s world-building, such as the description of various gods and goddesses worshipped by the peoples of Alkilion and the Eisenberge (some of whom even make an appearance during the story), and the use of Germanic linguistics to help name numerous locations and spells throughout the novel. All told, this is a classy, well-constructed story that we should be so lucky as to see continued in a sequel.