Kristen and I swapped books since Thunder Heist is essentially Oceans 11 but fantasy ( at least that’s what I gathered from the first 30%) that’s much more her kind of book, so I swapped her for this one since it had an audiobook. I’ll also say that since I listened to this and didn’t read it, I looked to the reviews and blurb and didn’t find spellings for these names so I’m doing it phonetically.
This follows a bunch of different characters as they make their way through the lands of the Witch-King; it’s a dismal place and not that way by accident. The Witch-King feeds off the land, the animals, and his own citizens. He can drain the life force of a person leaving them a husk of a person, or he can feed off their emotional misery.
About fifty years ago there was a battle and the good guys lost, and the Witch-King prevailed. One of our POVs, Kalas, is on a mission to kill the Witch-King. He’s the last of a resistance force lead by a now-dead king. He’s been hiding out for a long time, but certain events lead to his reprisal of an old vengeance and he’s off killing again. He’s got a demon inside him and the demon thirsts for blood, so this dude is killing his way to the Witch King making him a very grey anti-hero at best. He kills whoever, or whatever he wants to as he starts to lose control to the demon and becomes less and less of a human.
Meanwhile we’ve got Maya, she has a Gift for healing that she’s been trying to hide her entire life. In addition to the Witch King making the land a grey wasteland and murdering people to stay alive longer, the Witch King’s influence is felt throughout his realm. One of the effects is that pregnant women die more often than not when they give birth — an interesting concept that I would have liked to have seen more about since this would be so impactful on society. Wouldn’t there be a labor shortage? Have they discovered formula or some kind of replacement for breastmilk since all these mother’s die, what are the babies eating? Is there no attempt at contraception if pregnancy has such dire consequences? Anyway, Maya was born and her mother should have died, but she didn’t because Maya has healing powers and saved her.
Despite trying her best to hide her gift, Maya got found out and now she’s being shipped off to the Witch King because anyone who is Gifted gets sent to him to either become his servant or be killed. She’s probably going to be killed since there’s never been a Gifted that can make the grass grow, or heal a wound, or soothe animals and it’s a direct threat to the Witch King who loses power when the land is healed.
So, the soldier who’s helping escort Maya to her death is a guy named Tarryn. He’s lived a fucked up life but is a semi-decent person all in all. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone and he doesn’t want to be a soldier, but there are inescapable circumstances that have put him in a group of murderers. People think of soldiers as blood-thirsty, especially cruel, incredibly aggressive men. They’re right, and it’s because the soldiers wear amulets that deaden their more nurturing behaviors and amplify the violent tendencies making them into ruthless dickbags.
One of those ruthless dickbags becomes a sort of a mentor to Tarryn, in a most unlikely turn of events, Rackan finds himself thinking of Tarryn like the son he’s never had. He’s typically one of the most ruthless of these dickbags, but he’s protective about Tarryn since he’s the only person who didn’t look at him with disgust. Rackan is covered in sores and a pox-like thing since birth, even his own family wanted nothing to do with him, his mother was never warm or affectionate towards him. He’s been a loner for most of his life and he’s a deep shade of grey as a character, it’s interesting to see someone so unlikable still feel sympathetic towards him.
Maya is able to speak with Astran, this guy who’s able to spirit project himself across the country. It’s an uncommon ability and he’s trying to help Maya. He’s an agent of the King of the Free Cities, he was once shunned because it was thought he made a very expensive mistake, but when it was proved he was right (The Witch King means to start a war with them) he was invited back and given all the trappings of luxury. He doesn’t really care about that, though, he’s wary of this mercurial king, he just barely escaped with his life the last time, and he had been right.
Maya is by far my favorite, he’s easily the “best” character in that she’s not an asshole, and she’s not grey. She has strong ties with nature, she’s a hunter who’s able to run through the forest with an uncanny ability to find a path through with speed even in unfamiliar terrain. She’s smart, determined, and I love the healer class in general, I’m almost always a healer in a video game if given a choice and I’m in healthcare. I’m kind of a sucker for these character types.
I liked the world-building in this. There was a bleak, grim, dying feel to everything much like Mistborn by Sanderson. It was balanced with Maya’s personality and the redemption arc that Rackan followed. The different types of magic had an old-school wonder to it, no real rules to it, just a general type of magic that can do things related to that thing. Tarryn is able to read people’s thoughts and communicate through telepathy, Maya can grow plants, heal wounds, and soothe animals. The daemons that inhabit Kalas and another side POV make them fascinating characters even if they are basically villains themselves.
The writing style took a while for me to get used to, and at first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish this one because it wasn’t clicking with me for a while. There isn’t a lot of dialogue in general, but there’s almost none in the beginning which gave me this detached feeling towards the characters. A lot of a person’s personality is portrayed in how they speak, but there wasn’t a lot to go on at first which is part of the reason I wasn’t totally warming up to these characters. It did give it a very story-teller feeling to it, though, and I thought that was intriguing so I kept going. Although it took me a while to come around to the characters, I did get there and I started to really invest in them as the story went on. The dialogue that was used was also a bit old school to match the tone and setting of the rest of the book, that’s not always my favorite style, but it wasn’t so over-done that I got annoyed with it.
The pacing was pretty good, I flew through this in just a day. It was a little bumpy at first because of the quick head-hopping, not to mention there are a lot of POVs, so it had a start-stop feel to it until I was familiar with all the POVs and I adjusted to the pace that they switched around.
All in all, this was a surprisingly strong contender, I hadn’t expected too much since the cover didn’t make it stand out, but I enjoyed my time with this one. My batch is likely the strongest it’s ever been, who goes forward as a semifinalist is going to be tough.
- Plot: 12/15
- Characters: 12/15
- World Building: 12.5/15
- Writing: 11/15
- Pacing: 12.5/15
- Originality: 12/15
- Enjoyment: 7.5/10
Final Score: 79.5/100