Despite me being on the Orbit mailer list and being offered this book, I’m not actually writing a late review – I waited for this to be released so I could listen to the audio. I’m so swamped that I don’t have too much time to physically read a book anymore.
Ok, so I wasn’t sure about this book at first, but man did it win me over, and hard. This is an epic scope kind of book, this first installment was laying down the foundation for what I feel is going to be an incredible series. It starts out a little slower while getting to know all the different characters and how they are going to fit into the story. I felt at first that having two different nobles trying to work to overthrow their fathers and bring about a better life for the lower classes was overkill, but their stories diverged and became more unique as the book went on and it ended up being deeply satisfying.
There are three main characters and a small group of side characters. Lin is the Emperor’s daughter, Phalue is the governor’s daughter, and Jovis is a smuggler. There are multiple layers to this story and I think they wove quite a nice story by the end. It wasn’t immediately clear on how these three POVs were going to interact and be relevant to each other, but it came together and was cohesive.
Lin is in a constant battle with her father and foster brother for attention, approval, and keys. There are keys that open rooms throughout the palace and the kids have to earn their keys by impressing their father. It’s a competition on who can get the most knowledge, who can be the favored child, which will determine who inherits the throne. The emperor is in charge of all the constructs of the world, they are Frankenstein type monsters, sewn together pieces of animal and magic to create something similar to Golems. Bone shards are collected from the population via the tithe, a ceremony where each child at the age of 8 has to present themselves to get their shard collected. A chisel is placed on the skull and a piece of bone is harvested. About 1/25 kids dies during this ceremony. It was once considered a great honor, the constructs these bone shards help power were what kept an ancient race at bay, known as the Alanga . Now though, the Alangans haven’t been seen in hundreds of years, and the emperor’s grasp on loyalty with his citizens has become tenuous.
Enter Jovis, a smuggler, a smart ass, and a loner. He has left his home behind trying to find his wife. Sometimes people go missing in the middle of the night and coins are left in their place. The Emperor collects people but no one really knows why, only that they are “paid fairly” for the loss of their family members. Jovis’ wife was taken years ago and he’s been searching for her ever since. He happens to find a lead on Deer island, but when he’s getting ready to leave, the entire island sinks into the ocean mysteriously. He just barely makes it out of there, and as a favor to someone who gave him a lead on his wife, he took her nephew away from the island and away from the tithe. On their way out they find a strange creature floating in the ocean, and he decides to adopt it as a small gesture of kindness. The creature turns out to be much more than it appeared and becomes something like a familiar. I fucking love animal companions, I love them more when they’re smart/sentient, and I love them even more when they can talk and have magical powers. Hellll yeesssssss. So, Jovis was sort of destined to become my favorite POV, I am a sucker for animals and animal companions. One thing leads to another and Jovis finds himself becoming famous for smuggling kids away from the tithe and to safety. This catches the eye of the rebellion.
The rebellion is brewing for a great many reasons, and it’s not just effecting the emperor, but all the governors below him as well. Phalue is the governor’s daughter and has been something of a player for a number of years until she fell in love with a woman named Ranami, and she’s settled down a bit. Ranami is very focused on fairness, peace, and prosperity for the lower class. She grew up poor and struggling and it’s something Phalue just doesn’t understand. Phalue has a good heart, she means well, but she has a hard time seeing beyond the lens she was given as one of the privileged. Ranami is constantly trying to get Phalue to do more rather than just donate to charity and help those who happen to cross her path and help all the people under her father’s rule. This also gets them wrapped up in the rebellion.
I really loved all of these characters, I found Lin to have the most interesting insights into how the magic of the world works. It’s solely the emperor’s domain to use bone magic. He has a collection of shards for all of his citizens and he uses the shards to power all of the constructs in the realm. Constructs aren’t just warrior type things, some are spies, some are bureaucrats, some are accountants, they can be as diverse as the shards tell them to be. The shards can be inscribed with instructions that make them sort of like very complex golems. The more complex the construct, the more shards are needed. The risk of death when these shards are collected isn’t the end of the risk to the people who supplied them. When the shard goes into use it starts to drain the person of their life force. They get exhausted more quickly, they become sick, and sometimes they die. Phalue’s chapters were focused on a romance subplot so I wasn’t quite as into her story line, but it did show the most about the rebellion and their plans. Meanwhile Jovis was my favorite because I loved watching Meffi grow into something sentient from a small helpless little creature. It was also interesting because as he grew, Jovis began to have certain powers he didn’t have before, like superhuman strength.
All the while, the Alanga artifacts are waking up, bringing the top most layer of the story hanging over the characters, looming in the background as the foundation was being set up. I am REALLY excited for this series and can’t wait to see where it’s going.
I recommend this for everyone. But, specifically if you like broad scope epic fantasy with high stakes. If you’re looking for a f/f romance, if you’re looking for animal companions, and if you’re looking for tons of unique magic and world building. It has a very well performed audiobook as well.
- Plot: 14/15
- Characters: 14/15
- World Building: 15/15
- Writing: 13/15
- Pacing: 13/15
- Originality: 14/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 9.5/10
Final Score: 92.5/100