THREE WORDS: Superb World BuildingMY REVIEW: S.M. Boyce’s Lichgates, the first book in the Grimoire Trilogy, is a lush fantasy, rich in vibrant details, excellent world-building and stellar writing.Twenty-year old Kara accidently walks through a gate into the beautiful, but dangerous world of Ourea, and discovers the Grimoire, a book that turns its own pages and answers any question asked of it. The Grimoire contains the soul of the first Vagabond, a powerful being, and upon finding this book Kara becomes the new Vagabond and keeper of its secrets. Kara soon finds that being the Vagabond is anything but easy and that the different kingdoms of Ourea are out to control her and the Grimoire’s power. Kara finds an ally in Braeden, a native of Ourea who has deadly secrets of his own. Together, Kara and Braeden set out to bring peace to Ourea and must battle with many demons (both literal and figurative) along the way.Lichgates is a wonderfully crafted and executed first volume in the Grimoire Trilogy. Boyce offers readers an exciting and enthralling mix of fantasy, humor and romance. The fantasy world Boyce has created in Lichgates is inventive, refreshing and captivatingly imaginative.The story paces nicely throughout the book, and Boyce takes the time to introduce readers to her world and characters without dumping too much information, backstory or plot onto readers at one time. Boyce’s writing is smart, impressive and entertaining; she clearly understands the fantasy genre well. And the author does a fantastic job of balancing fantasy with real life situations, humor with the serious, and action scenes with more personal, intimate and character defining moments.As I stated above, the world-building in this book is superb. The magical and mysterious world of Ourea simply comes alive through Boyce’s writing. I had no trouble being able to imagine every detail of this world, but the world-building goes beyond just the vivid physical description. Boyce has added very important historical, political and cultural layers to her world of Ourea, and its individual kingdoms, creating a very dimensional, believable and well defined world.There is a large cast of characters, but the story revolves mostly around a few key characters, all of which are compelling in their own ways. Kara is an easily relatable and likable heroine. She’s smart, brave and capable, but she’s also flawed. Kara is far from perfect- she’s stubborn, speaks without thinking, rash and a bit reckless-but I love that about her because a) it makes her so relatable and b) it gives her a lot of room to grow as a character. And her character does evolve and grow, and naturally so. Braeden is such an intriguing character because there’s a great deal of depth to him and struggle within him, which, again, is a testament to Boyce’s fine writing. He’s definitely a swoon-worthy character, but I liked that my swooning over him didn’t keep me from questioning his motives and loyalty. As a duo, Kara and Braeden make for an enticing and amusing pair; there’s a natural chemistry and spark between these two.The fantasy elements are truly fantastical, wondrous and an exciting blend of the whimsical and the dark. I was pleasantly surprised with the humor within this book and how much I actually laughed. Kara has a sharp, acerbic wit that comes out at the perfect times and is very amusing. The action is pretty awesome; Boyce certainly knows how to write a thrilling, violent fight scene!The book wraps up nicely, offering answers and explanations to many of the questions presented in the beginning, while at the same time creating many more. The ending is satisfying, yet will leave readers ready and wanting for more.MY FINAL THOUGHTS: I really enjoyed delving into this book and cannot wait to see where Kara’s story goes. S.M. Boyce proves to be a wonderful new voice in fantasy. Lichgates is a grand and captivating first volume in what is sure to be a standout fantasy trilogy.