This was part of Qwillerys grouping and has since been eliminated.
The book opens with a fairly long prologue, it takes up 9% of the book and sets up the world and the events to come in the rest of the book. A man named the Monster was captured and executed after several failed attempts, the man was seemingly undead. They tried to hang him but he hung there kicking for over an hour. His eyes had been gouged out but he could still see. They ended up burning him, but he was laughing about it appearing to be in no pain. He called on hundreds of thousands of ravens that swarmed in the sky weaving in and out of each other forming prophetic visions in the sky. The Monster said that the sleeping god would awake in the distant future, and with it would come ruin.
Many years later a group of people are discussing the writings of a man from the prologue, which discusses the prophecy. Yazir believes in it and wants to go investigate it, he brings with him his apprentice, Ahmed to go venturing to the city where the prophecy takes place.
Yazir and Ahmed end up in a northern city called Nilhos that’s run by the empress Kariana, who’s both a drunk and a drug addict. They encounter a group of soldiers and try to make a peaceful introduction, but things go very poorly.
Aiul is a healer and a nobleman who lives in the same city, he’s currently married to a commoner which is driving his mother insane. She wanted him to marry Kariana, but really, anyone other than a commoner would do. Kariana is insane, and constantly tries to separate Aiul from his wife to make him the Emperor, but he wants nothing to do with it.
Kariana eventually ends up with Yazir’s and Ahmed’s fate in her hands, which is not a good thing.
There is a lot going on with the plot in this book, a lot of backstabbing and betrayal and general moral ambiguity.
Final Score: 8/10
- Yazir and Ahmed are from the southern end of the world and have a very strict sense of honor and duty and strength. Being weak in their culture is essentially the worst thing you can be, everything in this culture seems to revolve around strength. Ahmed is a very headstrong and bold character with a magical gift called ‘sight’ but it’s not the prophetic kind of sight. He’s able to touch maps and tell where evil resides and helps his team try and track down where this prophecy all stems from.
- Kariana is absolutely batshit insane, reading her chapters were infuriating. Think Cersei Lannister who has access to hardcore drugs. She’s paranoid, infatuated with herself, highly sexual and manipulative. She abuses her power over Aiul making him do things he wouldn’t have without her directly commanding him, and it’s ruining his life. She makes horrible decisions and is generally a terrible person. An interesting character study on drugs and addiction mixed with a narcissistic personality.
- Aiul is a healer and a nobleman in the city, a descendant of Amrath, a scholar who wrote down some of the first laws of the city. He tries to be a decent person, but given his ties to Kariana, his character is grey at best. He’s seen by others as someone who wants to be the hero, someone who dries tears and makes things better.
- Narelki is Aiuls mother, the Elder of house Amrath, and is one sassy old lady, she’s scared of no one. The empress Kariana comes to her during an emotional meltdown, and when Kariana doesn’t get what she wants she screams at Narekli “Fuck you!” Nareklis response was, “I shall have to decline that offer. I prefer my partners to have some discretion” mocking her for being publicly promiscuous.
- Cealwyn is the captain of the guard for Nilhos, he’s a stern and rigid man, adhering to rules and regulations, so much so that his nickname is “Stone”. He’s loyal to his men and his city, and has a decent head on his shoulders.
All of these characters had fairly distinct voices, and they were all somewhat grey, there was no real hero in this story, just a bunch of people trying to get their end goals.
There was an interesting choice to do almost a transition from one group of POV’s in the first half of the book, to a totally different set of POV’s in the last half of the book. It worked okay for me because I knew what was going on when the POV’s switched, but I was kind of left wondering how the first group of POV’s (Ahmed, Yazir, Brutus) were fairing in the later chapters.
Final Score: 8/10
The beginning setting was somewhat middle eastern, the city where Yazir and Ahmed come from is in the middle of a desert, and the people there have very brown or nearly black skin.
Once the story moves on to the other cities, the culture and people change quite a bit and you experience the new cultures mostly through Ahmed’s eyes. He’s amazed at the sight of snow, and doesn’t understand why people would “let themselves be slaves”. He believes that any person who doesn’t die fighting for their freedom deserve to be slaves.
This is a fairly low magic story, there were a couple mentions of supernatural or fantastical things happening, there are some mentions of sorcerers and old magics, but most of it was more on the realistic side of things.
Ahmed sees other cultures as being ‘barbarians’ and it was interesting to see his views on law, he believes that laws are just superstitions that society has chosen to believe and that they mean nothing to him – so he sort of does as he pleases in foreign cities which gets them into trouble. He doesn’t understand the concept of a piece of paper with a seal on it governing how people behave.
Virginity isn’t a thing to be cherished in Nilhos society, it’s considered a shame to go to your marriage bed without knowing what you’re doing.
Slaves are used in the north, and Aiul has had the same slave since childhood, but he isn’t cruel to him, they seem to have a rather loyal friendship and it resembles more of a servant relationship than anything. But, not all slaves in all cities are treated like that.
The people of Nilhos have little knowledge of the Southern lands, and fear another invasion – the last time it happened their ‘founders’ were overrun. Kariana responds to the southerners with fear, and will probably start a war over it.
There are a fair amount of drugs available to Kariana, it’s interesting to see that in fantasy because it doesn’t happen often.
Final Score: 8/10
The tone is fairly bleak, and only gets bleaker as the book goes on – it actually ends on a really fucked up scene that left me feeling kind of icky. The world itself isn’t really grim dark, there aren’t any monsters taking over, or undead hordes eating people or the typical things you associate with that genre, but man, no happy endings here.
The pacing was kind of slower, mostly because POVs were still being introduced after the halfway point of the book. I will say that you already know the POV’s being introduced, so it wasn’t jarring, but it did make things go kind of slower.
It’s an interesting writing choice to have the prologue take up so much of the book, but since it was relevant to the plot in chapter one it didn’t bother me.
Pacing Final Score: 7/10
Writing Final Score: 7.5/10
The characters were very different from what I’m used to, and so was the setting in the beginning. I really don’t see very many PoC POV’s or middle eastern settings in fantasy. I also don’t see many drug addicted Empresses, so honestly, a lot of this read very fresh.
Final Score: 8.5/10
- For people who like multi pov
- For people who like unique settings and characters
- For people who like low magic fantasy
- For people who like bleaker stories
- For people who like grey characters
- For people who like backstabbing and treachery
- For people who like politics
- Not for people who don’t like cursing, 23 fucks given
This book managed to be different from most things I’ve read for SPFBO, and I really enjoy when something is able to read fresh for me. It’s getting harder and harder to do with how much I read.
I can’t say I really loved any of the characters, but that’s what happens when you have a cast of grey characters where it’s easy to object to their decisions and morality. It was interestingly done though, the cultures were well developed and it kept my attention enough to have me read this in one sitting.
This is one of those books that I liked reading, but left me feeling kind of ick due to how it ended, this definitely won’t be for someone who’s looking for something lighter. I’ll probably need to read a comedy after this. (I also just came off several darker books)
Final Score: 47/60 or 7.83/10