This book was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review, I think it would appeal most to people who enjoy multi pov epic fantasy in a non-western setting.
Although there are a few POV’s, the main character is definitely Dayraven, he’s a 30-year-old who’s recently returned to his home country after being away for over a decade. He was part of a group of hostages that were exchanged during a peace treaty between his empire and a neighboring power 15 years ago. He is the last of the hostages to be returned, many of the other hostages had been released years ago and he’s bitter about how long it took for him to be able to come home.
It turns out the emperor wanted to bring him home for a while, but he’s being advised by someone named Astolf, who’s a royal shithead. Astolf is a POV and the antagonist to Dayraven throughout the book.
Almost as soon as he arrives back in his city, the Emperor gives him a mission – find a man named Halakh and find out what he’s doing in the Emperor’s city. The Emperor believes that this man has secrets and intends on divulging them to someone else and that it could be harmful to his empire. The thing is, Dayraven knows exactly who Halakh is, and has already planned to meet him in the city because Halakh said he had secrets to tell him now that he was old enough. Dayraven’s parents died when he was young, (his father was something of a legend) so he grew up with Halakh as his father figure.
The whole thing becomes more chaotic when Astolf sends an assassin after Halakh to frame Dayraven as a murderer, and with a more important mission to get the scroll that holds the secrets that Halakh knows. It turns out there are many people after this scroll because it could have to do with the Fifth Unmasking. Eventually, multiple dangerous people send their agents after this scroll, and Dayraven has to go on the run.
Dayraven is dealing with coming back ‘home’ but not feeling like he’s truly home anywhere since his lifetime was split into two different ‘homes’. It doesn’t help that as soon as he arrives in his home country he’s framed for murder and has to flee. There’s a romance between him and another character, Sunniva who’s the daughter of one of the most prominent scholars and architects in the land. She dresses up as a man and goes under different disguises, like a guard, to travel through the country with less resistance.
Astolf and Twister are the villains of this story, and they both get POV’s, I wanted a bit more from these two, they were kind of standard villains who hate the MC a little too much, a little too much enthusiasm, it felt a bit flat.
The world building in this is pretty unique when it comes to global politics. It appears as though everyone believes in a god named Ahken, and that Ahken has “Faces”. The Faces are revealed in a different city every few hundred years, and the world “changes” when that happens, ushering in a new era. The city the Face unmasks in is backed by the power of Ahken and the city becomes the superpower of the land. So far, Faustria has been in power for several hundred years and everyone knows the next Unmasking is coming soon, but no one knows when. It would be wise if the Emperor took these transition years to make alliances and strengthen trade for the inevitable fall from grace, but instead, he’s picking fights and antagonizing people. Dayraven is worried that if he antagonizes the wrong city, and it ends up being the next city of the Face, that the wrath that could befall Faustria could be immense.
Faustria has a lot of middle eastern flavor, it’s really hot and Dayraven suffered from sunburn when he was younger. The character names and place names tend to be Arabic, for example, the Emperor’s pet elephant is named Abul.
The magic is pretty mysterious, and there are a lot of puzzles, riddles, ancient languages and things of that nature which keeps things interesting.
The writing isn’t flowery or overly descriptive, so if you prefer more utilitarian prose that keeps the story moving this one may appeal to you. There are a lot of flashbacks for all of the characters and I sort of wish those were delivered differently. Becuase they happened so frequently and because it was a ‘present tense’ memory it felt a little jumpy.
This was fairly original, I don’t see a ton of middle-eastern settings in fantasy, and the way the politics and unmasking works was definitely different.
Overall I liked the book, I think the highlights would be the plot and the world-building, with the characters leaving me wanting a bit more. If you’re into multi pov twisty-turny adventurous fantasy I think it’s worth trying out.
For people who like:
- multi pov
- epic fantasy
- mysterious magic
- faster pace
- adventurous tone
- villain pov
- prophecy and mysteries
- Plot: 13/15
- Characters: 9/15
- World Building: 12/15
- Writing: 11/15
- Pacing: 11/15
- Originality: 11/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 7/10
Final Score: 74/100