I read this for SPFBO and it fell between the cracks for the reviews, like many others did, unfortunately. This will appeal to people who like multi pov, war, and politics.
The beginning of the book has a very brief 1-2 page intro to the world and its people which sets up what to expect from the story. The continent and its cultures are split geographically by North, South, East, and West. Rath is the Westerly most country, and their people are considered to be cold and lacking in cunning by other societies. The country of Jehar lays in the East and they consider themselves superior to the other 3 realms, thinking of themselves as the wisest and most passionate people of all the kingdoms. Jehar is ramping up an invasion force to take on the western kingdom of Rath.
There are many moving parts and a bunch of characters in this story, but I would say Yerikan comes the closest to being the main POV. Yerikan has a reputation for possessing nerves of steel and questionable morality, and it’s earned him a new mission from his master, Lord Paelen. Lord Paelen has it on good authority that the kingdom of Jerah is going to invade, he’s tried warning the nobles of the impending war for years, but they haven’t listened to him – consequently, their armies are no match for Jerah’s. Lord Paelen sends Yerikan on a mission to Jerah to learn what he can and delay the invasion if he can, any small delay can give the Rathians more time to prepare for war.
Jehar is ruled by two sisters who are also Undying, they’re approximately 600 years old and have been in absolute power for a long time, despite the puppet Empress sitting on the throne. The two sisters are very different, Isaah is a cunning military strategist and very hot-headed, while Nyreni is more down to earth and even-tempered enjoying her gardens and poetry.
When Yerikan arrives in Jehar he seduces Nyreni despite her oath of celibacy, and it caused a major rift between the two sisters. Nyreni eventually flees the city after her sister finds out about her ‘betrayal’ and oath-breaking behavior. After she flees, her sister Isaah starts to spread the word that Nyreni is a traitor and frames her for killing the Empress and uses it as an excuse to invade Rath. Isaah is also setting herself up to be worshipped as a god, without the influence of her sisters’ cool temperament she’s gone mad with power. To complicate things, Nyreni’s supporters are skeptical of the claims of treason and treachery, so Isaah has to find a way to put down the dissenters as she plans her invasion of Rath, it involves a lot of blackmail, kidnapping, and assassinations.
Meanwhile, Yerikan and Nyreni are on the run and have ended up in the South with the orange-eyed desert people. Nyreni has fallen head over heels for Yerikan, and he has no qualms exploiting that for his own benefit, playing along with it and pretending that he’s in love too. She’s convinced that Yerikan has untapped potential and that his master Lord Paelen has been keeping him back on purpose to hold off a potential rival. She’s training him how to harness his powers and he’s becoming more and more of a force to be reckoned with.
The way the story was written kind of made me feel distant from the characters in the same way that I did with Grace of Kings. It had a storyteller-esque feel to it like you were listening to a story around a campfire, and less involved with the characters and more involved in the plot. I also had a little trouble connecting with some of the characters just due to their nature. It’s obvious Yerikan lives up to his reputation during a scene where he’s involved Nyreni – he’s sleeping with her and she’s falling for him, and he has a thought in the back of his head that “she’s fun….. but if Lord Paelen orders me to slit her throat, I will.” It kind of hammers home this guy is a heartless dick and I didn’t find myself rooting for him, but I did find myself curious about him and what he was going to do next.
There were new POV’s and plotlines being introduced around 25% through the story so the pacing was a bit stop and go until about halfway through where it evened out and started to read quickly.
The tone is pretty bleak, there’s a lot of death, but much of it was small-scale fights vs large scale battles. There were a lot of political assassinations and those being silenced by the government, as well as people who are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The bleakness was kept up through the relationships as well, the two sisters used to get along but over the last few centuries, they drifted further apart into hatred. The relationship between Nyreni and Yerikan was also fairly depressing, with the reader knowing the whole time that she’s just being used, and the affection from Yerikan was minimal, although he did come to care for her more as the story went on. Watching a POV descend into madness is it’s own kind of bleakness as well, Isaah starts executing her staff because she doesn’t trust any of them. She told someone in her confidence that the house staff looked right into her eyes, so that must be defiance, so she had them killed… and likewise, the ones that didn’t look at her enough were killed because they were ‘clearly hiding something’.
This book has a more mysterious approach to magic rather than a hard magic system with rules, but song does come into play. “At a sung word, the bars of metal bent and writhed to the ground like worms.” Mages can be extremely powerful but they can burn through their reserves if pressed too hard, and Nyreni is suffering from this after getting her and Yerikan out of Jehar, she’s visibly aged and very weak.
Each of the cultures looks very different from one another, the skin tones of this world aren’t the typical “white” to “brown” spectrum, but rather has hues like violet and crimson – it’s pretty easy to tell who hails from what region and it makes for easy bigotry and hatred.
Overall, I felt like the world building outshined the characters in this one, the world building was very intricate, very well thought out and immersive. The plotline was very complex and involved a lot of different parties all coming together into one tapestry. I did feel kind of removed from most of the characters, although as the story progressed I found myself feeling worse and worse for Nyreni and very much sympathized with her.
For people who like:
- detailed and heavy world building
- insane rulers
- rivalries and warfare
- diverse cultures
- multi pov
- complex plot
- Plot: 12.5/15
- Characters: 10/15
- World Building: 13/15
- Pacing: 10/15
- Writing: 12/15
- Originality: 12/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 7.5/10
Final Score: 77/100 – 3.85/5 GR stars (recommended reading)