This is a slow burn book, a very slow burn with lots of politics, characters, moving pieces and hard choices.
Two completely different characters take center stage as a nation tries to hold itself together after a particularly brutal war which left one side basically enslaved. The Sands, as they are called, are dark skinned and conscripted into the army to help suppress their own people. Tourraine is a officer in said conscripted army and her arc was fascinating to watch unfold. She was taken at a young age and has been brain washed her entire life into believing that unification between her people and the Empire could result in a better life for everyone. She fully believes that people who believe in gods and magic are uncivilized, that the Empire has their best interest at heart, and to fall in line was the right way to go. She’s worked hard to get where she is, and she’s convinced if she can rise above the rest she will be recognized and appreciated by her captors. Of course, this is not at all how things go down. Over the course of the book she starts to become disillusioned with the Empire and starts to maybe favor the rebels…
Luca is the princess of the Empire, and the other main character. She’s not evil, though. She actually does want to be a good ruler, except that her uncle is currently sitting the throne until she’s deemed experienced enough to take over – but there’s always a chance her uncle will just try to dispose of her. She’s disabled and has a hard time walking for long periods of time and deals with a tremendous amount of pain. A horse fell on her and it shattered her legs, an incident she was lucky to live through at all. Since she can’t be a warrior queen, she tries to make up for her lack of physical skills with scholarly pursuits. She believes the brain can be as effect a weapon as a sword, and she’s not wrong. There are layers of problems she has to sort through on any given day, and trying to take care of it all is a monumental task.
I found the world building to be very compelling. I had thought that the Empire felt a bit French while the Sands felt North African – after looking over some other people’s reviews it seems to be the case. I don’t come across too many fantasy books set in this time period (muskets were the main fire arm, so maybe 1700s?) in a North African setting. It was very low fantasy almost to the end where some healing magic was introduced and hints of more magic maybe to come in later installments. Magic is a thing that’s outlawed along with religion, so none of the main characters or even predominant side characters have any magic.
The writing was stellar, I love the prose of this author and I’ll be sure to look for more works by them in the future. I just flowed through this book so easily, and the dialogue was so passionate, but believably passionate, not exaggerated and hyperbolic. There was a mix of real world cursing and in world cursing that I actually enjoyed, that’s not something I say often with in world cursing.
The pacing was slow as fuck. I almost DNF’d but I wanted to keep going because the world building was taking me in and I wanted to see where all of this build up was going. I read to about 50% before I felt like the true meat of the story was finally revealing itself, and another 20% after that before shit really started to go down in earnest. A lot of people die in this book, it’s pretty bleak and dark, but it was balanced with hope to keep it from getting too dark to enjoy. The last half of the book was much more exciting than the first half, and it pulled the score up from where I thought it would be.
Overall, I would recommend this to people who enjoy slow burn novels where politics takes the center stage, multiple LGBT romances, and a North African setting.
- Tropes: rebellion, princess and the pauper, forbidden romance, magic is forbidden, oppressed culture
- Tags: LGBT friendly, AoC, female leads, civil war, healing magic, North Africa, romance
- Genre: low fantasy/military fantasy/flintlock?
- Plot: 13/15
- Characters: 14/15
- World Building: 13/15
- Writing: 13.5/15
- Pacing: 8/15
- Originality: 11/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 8/10
Final Score: 80.5/100 or 4/5 on Goodreads