★★★★★ The Sun God’s Heir: Return by Elliott Baker is the first book in a historical fiction trilogy about a nineteen-year-old Frenchman named René, who is the son of a wine merchant—and a world-class sword fighter to boot. René’s life in seventeenth-century Bordeaux is relatively uneventful up until the day his friend is brutally murdered in a duel with a local bully, Victor Gaspard. René slays the man in revenge but his troubles are just beginning. Victor was the son of a powerful businessman, who now seeks vengeance against René and will stop at nothing short of recruiting the help of the king himself to do it. Forced to flee France on one of his father’s trade ships, René soon finds himself in hot water. He’ll need the aid of allies both new and familiar in order to return home and put an end to the dispute.
On its surface, The Sun God’s Heir is a satisfying and compulsively readable swashbuckling thriller—but to read this novel at a surface level would be doing it a great disservice. With such an expansive setting—one that includes France, Spain, and parts of northern Africa, not to mention the endless swathes of open sea itself—it’s impossible not to appreciate how seamlessly the author ties everything together. With an almost cinematic acerbity, Baker throws his protagonist into an increasingly perilous series of trials, each time allowing him to fight his way out, and demonstrate how he’s grown a bit more into the man that readers will undoubtedly root for him to become. Throughout the book, Baker also weaves in the tale of an ancient Egyptian rivalry, and a three-thousand-year-old brotherhood of protectors sworn to defend the world from evil. As this is just the first book in a trilogy, readers will be given only a taste of what’s to come with regards to that particular storyline, but it’s a tantalizing taste nonetheless.