This was epic in the true sense of the word. Just because a book is long doesn’t necessarily mean it will use a wide-angle lens to view the world. There can be extremely lengthy books with a very narrow scope. This is a book that tried to show you every angle possible. Each character had their own schemes, plots, motivations, background, and reasons to get behind one leader or another. Sometimes their loyalties weren’t as strong as they appeared to be, not even amongst family members. All of that came together to make this a very dense, complex, and intricate kind of book. There was a long learning curve to this one, but I believe the pay-off was sufficient.
If you enjoy stories like Abercrombie’s where you get to see all sides of a war, (and with more than just two sides to a war), this book could be for you. Unlike Abercrombie, however, these characters aren’t quite so dark, grey, and uncomfortable. I found it easier to relate to these characters than say, Glokta, the professional torturer. Since it’s easier to root for them it actually made it harder and more tense for me when five of them show up on a battlefield ready to slaughter each other.
Two of the main POVs are siblings, their mother was killed 15 years ago in a failed rebellion. Ever since then the North and the South have been at odds with each other. The brother, Josiri, is in love with a witch… it could lead to his execution. He’s also trying to fund and support another rebellion… it could lead to his execution. The sister, Calenne, doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the rebellion or her dead mother. She wants to shed her last name, flee her ‘prison’, and go marry a northerner to finally get rid of her past. She’s had a betrothal since before the war and intends to go through with the arranged marriage… but of course, things can’t just go smoothly for everyone. Where’s the story in that?
Another POV is the Black Knight. He’s a figure of legend. He has a secret as well… he has a barely contained entity that’s best described as a shadow. It can slaughter those around him, it turns the air cold, and he has little control over it when he’s stressed or angry. He’s also the one who killed the mother of the other two POVs. He’s also the one who could help bind the North and the South together, a necessary task since there’s a bigger threat looming. The Hadari are on a warpath towards the Tressians, and it’s a problem for both the North and South Tressians. Prince Saran is determined to claim his birthright and sit as the Emperor over all of them.
Princess Melanna is the daughter of the would-be Emperor, Saran of the Hadari. She is bound by her gender and is trying to break free of her restraints. In her culture women are not warriors, they are lesser to sons (not true for the other POVs cultures) and she’s determined to be her father’s heir. She’s determined to show she’s just as capable as a son would be and to make her father proud. She’s actually one of my favorites, she has a goddess that comes and talks with her and adds a whole layer of mystery to the story.
I definitely love-hate it when I can’t decide who I want to come out of a battle alive …. because my favorite characters are opposing one another in the war. It’s a sign that the characters and different perspectives of the cultures have been well explored so that you can equally sympathize with any of the factions.
I’m also a sucker for people who don’t like each other having to work with one another for a common goal. The fact that the Black Knight has to work with the two kids he orphaned created a lot of tension and intrigue into how things were going to play out.
The writing was excellent, I listened to this on audiobook and that can really make infodumps stand out in ways that may come across with more subtlety in text. The world-building was delivered smoothly and naturally with little exposition. This does require paying attention and having no distractions. There was a slow build-up of magical scenes that were toned in just the right way where you weren’t overwhelmed and it left you wanting more. There is a scene where an assassin tracks down some of the main characters, and when they appear they are shrouded in mists and linked to The Crow. There are stories told about the mists and not to walk out into the fog at night because you likely won’t return. All of it was just fascinating.
Despite its length, there wasn’t much I would have considered cutting. There are a few aspects that I think may have been condensed, and maybe other scenes could have been shortened – but all in all, this was written pretty concisely for how large the scope was. I mean we get to see every plot and scheme on the planet it felt like. I believe it was necessary to have a slow beginning that laid solid groundwork for something of this scale. There’s a saying that a well-written book will have a depth well beyond what’s shown on the page … like seeing just the tip of the iceberg … and I believe that this may be one of those times.
TLDR: A tome epic in scale and complexity. Intricate plotlines that weave together as one. Slower beginnings but with big pay-offs. Old school mysterious magic rather than having a magic system. Gods and goddesses. Multi POV. All sides of the war represented.
- Plot: 14/15
- Characters: 13/15
- World-Building: 14/15
- Writing: 13/15
- Pacing: 11/15
- Originality: 11.5/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 8/10
Final Score: 84.5/100 or 4.5 stars on GR