Aram Raythe is a young village boy dreaming of becoming a sailor. His potential to do magic, though, is stronger than any other in centuries. His childhood friend, though that's using the term loosely, Markus just wants to escape his abusive father. A bard with knowledge of the old world comes to the village and discovers Aram's gift but, honestly, things repeatedly go south for both with the typical hero's journey being horribly interrupted by unexpected tragedies. Aram is destined to become a Champion but it is questionable whether anyone he knows will still be alive by the time it happens.
I should point out that I'm inclined to like it already since I, too, am neuroatypical and this stars a protagonist that is on the spectrum. The people of the fantasy world don't have much of an understanding of autism, however, so Aram is merely "weird." I feel like some of Aram's symptoms are exaggerated but not so much that they are unbelievable.
Certainly, I saw some of my own situation in his portrayal. I especially liked Aram's mono-focus on knots and how he had a massive cavern full of thousands of knots he'd made over the years. I also liked the fact that he found the idea of mixing food disgusting, though I believe those who forced him to mix them as a way to "toughen him up" were vile and should die horribly. Seriously, worse than Ramsey Bolton, all of them.
This is a fairly straightforward high fantasy and if you're looking for Hopepunk, which I still don't get as a title, I think this is a pretty good example of the genre. It is about a heroic young man who overcomes his issues through perseverance to fight against the evil bad guys that are in need of a thorough posterior kicking. I've mentioned in other reviews that I find M.L. Spencer to have been strongly influenced by the Wheel of Time and I still see that here but, despite its 1000 pages, a lot happens with very little padding.
Of the two protagonists, I prefer Markus as a character because he's a bit more cynical and pragmatic. He's a guy who is constantly trying to make the best of a very bad situation. Not to spoil the book but at one point, he finds himself among people he utterly hates and would love to kill but just sucks it up because they're the only way he can survive for the time being. I like that as its an unexpected writing choice. The two protagonists go on a long journey together, spanning multiple years, and its interesting to see them grow into strong adults where they were once terrified children.
I very much enjoyed this novel and I think people looking for an enjoyable old school fantasy novel will find this to be a welcome antidote to the grimdark explosion currently out there. It reminded me of Dragonlance with all its dragon riders, focus on the power of friendship, and other fun. Not to put down this series, but I think the writing is better too (unless we mean the Legends trilogy because I will defend that to the death). Solid and entertaining work.