I had read this one a while back, but because it’s somewhat complex and also really long I decided I’d revisit it via audiobook to write my review.
This is my favorite Phil Tucker book and I really hope it gets, even more, attention – it was a finalist in last years SPFBO.
There are several POV’s and most of their plots are related, but there’s one that’s set apart from the others.
There are two separate but related stories being told in this book, and those storylines don’t cross over in this one – but you can see where it’s going for books down the road and it’s fun to speculate on what’s going to happen. Most of the POV’s interact though, it’s just one outlier from the main group.
The book opens with a battle scene if you’re into action from the start check out this book – it starts out with a bang! There are two sides coming to blows in a valley, the Ascended army, and their rivals. The Ascended army has never lost, they are legendary and to defy them means death. Until this battle. The other side uses sin-casters, not seen for several centuries. They rain down black death from the sky and completely obliterate the Ascended army. Asho, a squire in this battle, watches as all the knights he rode to battle with fall one by one, including the knight/Lord he was squiring for. He manages to escape the battle and even become knighted, which is unheard of for someone of his race, (slave race), and he goes back to his leige Lady to tell her the news. He gets recruited to her side as a knight because all of her men have been killed and they need to be able to defend her lands.
Ketha is the daughter of the Lady Kyferin, and I really like her character. There are legends and stories of women fighting alongside men as knights and she decides this is what she wants to do with her life. She enters a tourney in honor of her father’s death and fights decently well. I liked it because it was pretty realistic, she wasn’t a badass kicking everyone’s ass, she got unhorsed during the jousting, but held her own decently well during the sword fight. She’s headstrong but smart, she’s not cold but she’s not overly warm either. I think what I liked most was seeing her come to terms with who her father really was (violent dick head), and try to find her own way to be a lady knight.
Her mother, Lady Kyferin was also a very interesting character. She’s been living under the Lords boot for 20 years, and it’s been a violent and painful affair. She didn’t really want to marry him, she was just 15, and he was extremely rough with her and had lots of women on the side. She probably would have fallen into a deep depression without her kids, who are the world to her. Now that her husband is gone she’s trying to rally the realm around her, gather men to replace those who were lost in the battle, and assert herself as strong as a leader as her husband was. It doesn’t go easy for her though, her husband’s brothers have set their eyes on her castle and mean to take it for themselves.
Tharric is the character that’s sort of off to the side doing his own thing. He’s not a human, he’s a craw which is an orc like race with thick skin and tusks. They aren’t a “stupid” race, but they aren’t sophisticated either. They have their own rather fascinating culture that was fun to read about. Tharric discovers a magical crown that allows him to gain insights into the world and grow vastly more intelligent. With that and a legendary sword, World Breaker, his goal is to unite all of the craw clans under one banner.
Final Score: 9/10
Asho – he’s been abused his whole life and he’s learned how to take humiliation with his head held high. He wanted revenge against his Lord but was robbed of that when he died in battle instead. He lost his sister a long time ago, largely due to the cruelties from the Lord directed towards her – she chose a life in the slave mines over being held at the castle. Despite being born into a slave race he’s rising fairly quickly due to his skills in battle and at the tournament.
Tharric – I loved seeing the way this guy got himself out of some serious trouble and seeing a new culture of non-humans through his POV. He’s convinced he’s from an ancient bloodline descending from a Craw that united all of the clans a long time ago. He’s determined that he can bet the person to do it again.
Ketha – She doesn’t want to be a lady in dresses, get married and have kids. For several years she’s been training in secret with the blacksmith on how to defend herself. She was attacked 3 years ago by a knight named Tiron, and she almost died. Since then she’s felt determined never to be so ‘helpless’ again, and to be able to defend herself and her castle. She’s determined, strong and smart – but not to the point where she reads like a mary sue. She’s capable but not ridiculously talented. She had a complicated relationship with her father, and her mother held back how violent and terrible he could be. It was fascinating watching her learn who her father really was, and how that affects how she sees other characters.
Lady Kyferin – This woman has seen some shit, and she’s gotten through it rather well. She was more or less continuously abused for 20 years but managed to get through it stronger not a broken and weak person. Watching her learn about her husband’s death and how she planned to take power after his passing was interesting. She has a complex relationship with her daughter, and in the end, she agrees to allow Kethe to pursue her dream to be a knight – even if she thinks it’s a mistake. Her kids are her life, and we don’t get enough mothers in fantasy, really enjoyed her POV.
Tiron – This is the Knight that attacked Kethe years ago, he was thrown into the dungeon and had been rotting there for 3 years. Why did he attack Kethe? Because his wife was raped to death by Lord Kyferin and then the Lord killed his son as well. He’s a very interesting POV as he grapples with being left alone in a dungeon for years with nothing but hatred to keep him going. Then he’s suddenly set free by the wife of the person he hates most int he world and asked to serve her since she’s run out of knights after the battle in the beginning of the book. Will he kill the two women in revenge and loss of sanity – or will he serve them?
Final Score: 8.5/10
Magic casters are supposed to be gone from the world, but they made an appearance for the first time in centuries during the first battle. It’s supposed to be considered unclean and dark magic. Black fire was cast at the Ascended army and it was splitting people in two and setting fire to things. About a dozen sin casters were able to take out an entire army that was unprepared.
Reincarnation is a huge part of societies beliefs and social structure. It’s believed that people go through 7 levels of ascension, and in the end they either ascend to the top and go through “The White Gate” and there they finally find peace and their souls stop getting reborn. Or, they ascend downwards due to misdeeds and evil lifestyles and they enter through the Black Gate and get tortured for all eternity. It’s believed that you ascend through different races of humans, with Bithians being the lowest of the low, almost at the Black Gate.
Craw have their own culture with Warlords leading men to battle, and the women running the “Womens Circle” who are the advisors/ultimate decision makers of the clan. They go into a breeding season where the loner males find the clans of women and try to impress them into mating. They are intelligent and have their own social structures and culture – but they aren’t as “civilized” as humans. They have a blood rage that’s similar to what “orcs” have and they kill everything that stands in their way. The clans have their own banners and leaders and sometimes merge or split.
Final Score: 8.5/10
The pacing was great in this book, it starts out with a lot of action and there’s a mix of politics and betrayal and action scenes that keep the story moving fast. It’s a longer book but I flew through it the first time I read it, and it captured my attention thorougly during my audiobook re-read (the audiobook was great).
The tone was somewhat adventurous, somewhat thrilling with all the battles, and mysterious as well. There are monsters and magic the further you get along in the book.
It was a well-written book, I’ve read several of Phil Tuckers books at this point, and this one is my favorite – def a reason it made it as a finalist last year.
Pacing Final Score: 8.5/10
Writing Final Score: 8.5/10
A brand new race that has it’s own culture, a bunch of unique POV’s. A very unique religion and societal structure, I really enjoyed a bunch of fresh ideas in this book.
Final Score: 8/10
- For people who like a lot of action
- For people who like a lot of monsters
- For people who like non human pov
- For people who enjoy multi POV
- For people looking for female POV
- For people who like knights and battles