Xandon and the King’s Scepter is a coming-of-age novel set in the Seven Kingdoms of the Magistrate, a world full of mystery and wonder and riven by conflict. As he trains to be a knight, the tale’s hero becomes embroiled in a murder and entangled in a cruel prince’s schemes. He also makes friends and learns that he isn’t who he thought he was. 

Tyson Vonn Beck has always known that he wanted to be a storyteller. As a kid, he was into movies, and by the time he was 10, he was “messing around with ideas for writing stories.” When he discovered fantasy novels, he met characters that stuck with him long after their stories had ended. “When you finish a series and you put it down, you miss those characters. That feeling made me want to write, so that I could spend more time with the types of characters that feel like friends.” 

The cast of characters Vonn Beck created for his first novel is, in one sense, an homage to some of his old friends from books he loved. But they also share traits with the author. Xandon is an orphan—an “unwanted”—who works as a servant in a house full of people who despise him. Vonn Beck lived with a variety of adults who weren’t his parents before being adopted. He knows what it’s like “to be an outsider in a family you don’t belong to.”

There’s plenty of enchantment and adventure here, but this is also a story about a boy finding his place in the world and learning to trust. Vonn Beck understands that, even in fantasy, the action “has to be grounded in real emotion if it’s going to matter to people.” Talking from his home in Seattle, he adds, “It’s really disappointing when you’re reading a story and you’re halfway through and you realize you don’t really care what happens to any of the characters. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen in my stories. I rewrite and rewrite until I’m confident that the reader will care about what happens to my characters, imperfect people making their way through a fantasy world.” 

Kirkus Reviews calls Xandon and the King’s Scepter “a promising start for a planned fantasy series that capably handles both politics and magic.” For Xandon, the machinations of the adults around him create a feeling that will be familiar to any kid—the frustrating sense “that your life is controlled by hidden laws that you’re not even aware of.” Xandon, who learned how to fight by protecting himself however he could, feels constrained by the niceties of knightly combat. And his fellow students at the Avondale guild never let him forget that he has no social status—not even a last name. When, overwhelmed by these external forces, he decides to run away, Xandon meets a seer. She seems like someone who could help him learn to navigate the new world in which he finds himself, but even she leaves him with more questions than answers: 

“All the decisions we make, big or small, have an effect. As a seer, I can see the outcomes of those decisions. Your decisions.”

“You can see the future?” Xandon summed up. “You can see what’s going to happen?” 

“I can see what may happen. The difference is you have to decide.” 

Xandon looked out into the night sky. It no longer seemed endless with possibilities.

“So, the future is already decided then?” 

“No. The future, Xandon, is up to you. Always. I am here to let you know that the decision you’re making tonight may not be the one you want.”

“Leaving the guild?” Xandon crossed his arms, looking away. “I don’t belong there,” he said. “I’m an unwanted.”

“You would desire to believe.”

“Why would anyone want to believe people don’t like them?” Xandon asked.

“Feeling undesired can be as familiar as feeling desired, can it not? You get used to having the light of others upon you, or being in their shadow. You navigate toward one because the other makes you uncomfortable.” 

Xandon thought of Persephone and felt as though he understood her more. It was as if they were opposites. Her yearning for attention, and him, always avoiding it. 

“All your life you’ve lived in a shadow. It’s time you made your own shadow by standing in the light.”

Vonn Beck also explores what power is and what it can do to those who wield it from the perspective of the powerless. “I’ve always thought that the rulers would be people who don’t really want to be rulers. They’d be people who fight because they want to protect people who can’t fight for themselves. But positions of power seem to attract people who are hungry for power for its own sake.” 

This novel deals with serious themes, but it has lighthearted touches, too. Yes, there are moments when Xandon might have the fates of kingdoms in his hands, but he also has to find a date for a school dance—and for an adolescent, it’s tough to say which challenge is more pressing. An animal lover himself, Vonn Beck had fun populating his invented world with strange creatures. There’s the harpatrice lizard, all claws and teeth and bad attitude; a gentle, flower-eating giant called a cornish; and the majestic, mystical Berune tiger. 

When he’s not spending time with his own favorite animal companion—a dog—Vonn Beck works in video game production. He also continues to write, having completed the first few installments of a historical fiction/adventure mashup serial called Outlaws (available via Kindle Vella). And while Vonn Beck was careful to make sure that Xandon and the King’s Scepter works well as a stand-alone novel, there is a sequel underway. He snuck the title into the end of the first book. “One of my favorite things about writing is foreshadowing,” he says. “I love setting something up so that, later, the reader goes, ‘Oh, right!’ ” Just one more reason to look forward to Xandon’s return.

Jessica Jernigan is a writer and editor who lives in the Midwest.