I bought this solely because it’s narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds and I saw that its GR score is pretty high with several thousand ratings.
This is a world where the oceans are filled with demons and no one crosses the water, it’s suicidal. Their society is built around a rigid and highly structed caste system where there are castes within castes so that every last person has “their place”. Each member of a caste stays there from birth to death, there are a lot of ways to break the Law, and a very common punishment is death. The “casteless” are the lowest of the low and banished to live in poverty stricken villages on the coasts. Since they live close to the water they are raided by demons more often than those nestled safely inland… and although Casteless are considered “non persons” or “not a whole person” it’s still prudent for the kingdom to send out Protectors to rid the villages of demons so the demons can’t head further inland.
The book opens with the main character, Ashok, killing a couple demons who came to wreak havoc on a small coastal town…. he nearly died except for the fact that a Casteless saved his life by wielding an illegal weapon. The Casteless are treated worse than livestock and are forbidden many commonplace items available to other castes. Ashok believes in the Law fully, completely, without any sort of doubt or question. His existence is simple and straightforward, follow the Law or deal with the consequences. It was his job to deal out consequences…. so when it came time to execute the Casteless who saved his life because he did so with an illegal weapon… it should have been an easy blow. It wasn’t though, and the man turns out to be the very start of the main characters growth as a person. It takes a long time for this plot to get going, and some aspects of it are fairly spoilery, so I’ll leave it as a war is brewing between the classes, and this guy is central to its success or failure.
Ashok has a magic sword that belongs to an elite and dwindling group of weapons known as the Ancestor Blades. Each of the richest Houses have one of these blades, or they used to until they started self destructing one by one leaving only a dozen or so scattered throughout the realm. The Ancestor Blades keep the memories of all those who wielded the sword before the current owner. It has a mind of its own, and it chooses the person who carries it with great care… and violence. If you are deemed unworthy by the sword and try to claim it, you’ll likely end up dead… and it may have been an awful and bloody death. Ashok was chosen, and so he gains the knowledge, wisdom, and fighting ability of 1,000 years of warrior’s memories. Pretty neat. This also makes Ashok sort of a larger than life character who’s able to defeat droves of enemies on his own. That may or may not appeal to some people, but given I was in the mood for a quick fun romp it worked just fine for me.
I’m not sure if I ever totally warmed up to Ashok, it took a long time for him to become relatable and not completely frustrating. He was described by another character as “”sense of duty made flesh, a living avatar of the Law”, and he really did read that way for a long time. He’s utterly and completely devoted to a backwards way of looking at the world and so I was realllyyyy rooting for him to get his head out of his ass and see the world for what it was, unjust and cruel and all the Law’s fault.
I thought this story was going to focus completely on Ashtok, but there were a handful of side POV’s that popped up later on. I actually feel like I could have done without them – or that they needed to be fleshed out a bit more. Some of the side POVs were pretty good but others felt a little flat.
The pacing was pretty good when it was focused on the present Ashok timeline, but I found the flash backs to his childhood to be a little slow. I don’t always like it when there are two timelines that change back and forth frequently – that’s a me thing though. I felt like the writing was solid, it was a straight forward kind of book that didn’t meander with a lot of descriptions or flowery language. I did find that it made the scenery a little vague at times, but it sped the story along very fast, I started and finished the same day.
All in all I would recommend this to people who are looking for a fast paced read with a ton of high fantasy elements – wizards, demons, magic swords etc. Tim Gerard Reynolds did a fantastic job as he always does with the audio performance.
- Plot: 10/15
- Character: 10/15
- World Building: 11/15
- Writing: 12/15
- Pacing: 11/15
- Originality: 10/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 6/10
Final Score: 70/100 or 3.5/5 on Goodreads