I received this book in exchange for an honest review – I think it would appeal most to people who like darker coming of age stories.
I listened to the audiobook version of this, so my spelling is probably not accurate.
The start of the book is extremely dark, the main character is telling you about his childhood and it was as traumatic as it gets. His village is ransacked by a group of savage people that raped, killed, ate, and performed ritualistic demon sacrifices on the villagers – including children.
The main character watches his mother get raped, imprisoned, and then sacrificed to a shadow demon, but he does it all with very little emotional response. Since the main character is telling you his story, you know from his anecdotes that he’s not a sentimental person, that he’s rather detached from the world and the people in it… but it still struck me as odd that he didn’t recall how he was feeling in the moment. He did recall how scared he was when later he was running from the cannibals through the forest, hearing noises in the night thinking it was trackers or monsters.
The tone took a left-hand turn about a third of the way through when the main character journeys with his best friend who also escaped the village, and his new supernatural animal companion, a giant cat known as a Great Heart. It was much lighter during this and the military training but then shifted again during a sexual assault during said training.
After journeying for a long time they come across their first-ever city, and it was fun watching them react to the immenseness of a city when they had grown up in a small village and then wandered through the wilderness and plains.
Once in the city they are taken under the wing of a general named Kyle, he and his wife are kinder than they need to be and they function as surrogate parents for both Cassius and Caladan. Both of them start training under Kyle and it’s discovered the Caladan is bonded to a Great Heart. A Great Heart is an animal with supernatural powers, and once someone bonds with one they gain those powers. Caladan is stronger and faster than most people, and he also has enhanced senses that allow him to smell and hear things with a greater ability. It gets to the point where he can hear other peoples heartbeats and can react faster than normal during a fight. The empire tries to keep the existence of Great Hearts under wraps, using those bonded to them as covert agents. Once the empire finds out that he’s bonded to a Great Heart, and insist that he start school to be an Imperator. The Imperator’s are a boogie-man like organization that people use to scare their kids, most people think they’re a myth, but if you ever meet one you’re likely to need a change of pants.
My favorite character was actually Cassius, Caldans best friend and companion through this whole thing. Cassius has a much higher moral standard and prevents Caladan from doing things he feels are immoral. When they were escaping their village at the beginning of the book, one of the trackers becomes injured and is in a vulnerable position. Caladan wants to kill him, but Cassius insists they spare his life – it turns out to be a wise decision that benefited them a lot. Cassius means well but doesn’t have a lot of tact. He’s likely to stand up for you, but also tell you that you look like hell when you’re sick.
Caladan is much colder and more calculating and always had been, he was described that way before the attack happened, and only grew colder still. He does have affection for his best friend, but when he first encountered the cannibals he bolted and left his friend to be captured, “reacting first with his brain, not his heart”.
Caldan’s Great Heart, Seya, also gets a POV and that was actually a lot of fun. Like a typical cat, she’s sassy, self-absorbed, confident, and a little condescending when she speaks with Caladan. Their relationship was my favorite part of the book, I am a sucker for animal companions, and if they’re sassy cat animal companions all the better. She treats him kind of like a cub, and helps him train how to be stealthy like her.
The world building is definitely high fantasy, there are shadow demons that eat children, there are immense telepathic panther-like creatures and all sorts of fantasy elements right from the beginning. Kyle has two swords that are bonded to him in much the same way that Caladan is bonded to his Great Heart. He’s much stronger and faster than he should be and is one of the only people who can truly train Caladan.
The writing is in the first person past tense, the main character is older and is now telling you his story. It’s moderately paced, with some scenes going faster and others being training scenes. I like training scenes so this didn’t slow me down, but mileage may vary. The prose is also straightforward and more utilitarian than flowery, there isn’t a ton of description and there aren’t a lot of similes or metaphors. It does help keep the pace up and lets the writing get out of the way of the story.
The author did his own narration for this one, and while usually this goes horribly wrong, I wouldn’t have known he wasn’t a typical narrator without him telling you at the beginning. He didn’t use exaggerated voices so it’s not like listening to Steven Pacey or TGR, but it flowed well and the mild voices that were used didn’t distract or take away anything.
For people who like:
- coming of age
- darker stories
- animal companions
- first person
- high fantasy
- mysterious magic
- Plot: 11/15
- Characters: 10/15
- World Building: 12.5/15
- Writing: 12/15
- Pacing: 11/15
- Originality: 11/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 7/10
Final Score: 74.5/100 ~ 3.5 stars