I sent out a tweet asking people what their favorite book of the year was and this book came up repeatedly. I had to check it out, right?
Helena works as a clerk for a man named Vanvault, he’s an Empirical Magistrate and his job is to make sure that law and order is followed within the Empire. Now, the Empire is growing at an exponential rate, the cartographers have their hands full since it’s necessary to update the maps annually at a minimum. There’s a low-wage war going on within the Empire’s various newly conquered territories. The Emperor is trying to forcefeed a new religion and make all the previous diverse nations believe in one religion… which of course means ousting the old religions. It’s Vanvault’s job to make sure that all the ‘heretics’ denounce the old ways and the old gods. Well, people don’t like that. However, Vanvault is a scary motherfucker. He speaks with the Emperor’s Voice, an ability that can compel others to do as he says, even if it means suicide, supposedly. He can also speak with the dead so long as they’re freshly dead. All that said, Vanvault is a patient man and wants to be fair. Despite the fact that the people of Rill still clearly believe in the pagan gods, and he knows with certainty the moment he leaves they will go back to their ways, whether they denounce it right now or not. He doesn’t really seem to care so long as they say the right things and pay the fee. He just wants to keep the peace first and foremost.
But, not all feel this way. Vonvalt is part of the older generation, the generation that remembers things before the Empire got so big. Most people of this generation worshipped other gods themselves at some point in time, and now just toe the line to keep their head on their shoulders. The younger generation grew up with these new gods, and they Believe. These new people in the Empire have a fervor and want to see the heretics burn at the stake. So, not only is there turmoil between the government and it’s citizens, but there’s turmoil within the governments ranks, or at least a wide difference of opinions on how best to proceed. This new empire is all of 50 years old.
All of that is about Vonvalt and he’s not even the main character, but he is sort of the one that drives the story despite the main POV being from Helena. So he’s her teacher, he rescued her from the streets after the war came to her town and yada yada. She’s been trained up as a clerk and she’s fairly quick on the uptake. She’s also super sassy, stubborn, thinks she knows everything, and drives me a bit bananas. I mostly liked their relationship together, though. He makes for a very good teacher and an excellent example of what a leader should be.
The writing style mostly worked for me, the narrative prose worked just fine but sometimes the dialogue didn’t do it for me. There was a particular scene where someone dies, obviously won’t tell you who, but it’s meant to be an emotional scene with a lot of build up behind it. During the first half of the scene I was in the moment, it was working for me. I was sad, and I was a bit emotional on the character’s behalf. But, the ‘climax’ of the scene just didn’t end. It was one of those drawn out death scenes that just kept going. Someone who should be very dead just kept saying last words, and they weren’t staggered short clipped words like you’d expect in this particular situation. It was long drawn out eloquent sentences when this person should be incoherent and/or dead. The longer they took to die the funnier it got for me.
There is a long build up to the main meat of the plotline because there is just so much world building to do before you can really understand the storyline enough to move forward with it. That does mean the pacing is a bit slow, I was starting to get a bit bored before the tables turned on Vonvalt, where it’s revealed that maybe perhaps he doesn’t have the authority he thinks he does. Things really kick off when Vonvalt realizes he’s been away from the Capitol for too long, and the lunatics/religious zealots have taken control of things and are on a warpath.
One of the cooler aspects to the book was the necromancy. I’ve seen necromancy done a lot, so although this wasn’t anything new it was still neat. It’s not something to be taken lightly, and it comes off as dangerous. There’s a reason he doesn’t try to commune with the long-dead, ones that are too decayed. The world building was absolutely the highlight for me in this book. It was a very thoroughly developed world that I would love to re-visit.
The narrator got on my nerves a few times. There were a bunch of sentences where she paused before the last word in the sentence like she was reading it for the first time — which she might have been, but that’s strange to hear in an audiobook. It wasn’t too many times, but it was sprinkled in enough times were it was weird. She also has a more subtle voice acting skills, which some people prefer. But, I tend to need animated performers to hold and keep my attention. This is a very personal taste thing, some people find Nick Podehl and Vikas Adams to be too much.
So overall I know I highlighted things that didn’t work for me, but I still really enjoyed my time with this book and would read another by this author. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a more traditional fantasy story with a mentor/trainee relationship, necromancy, and some politics.
- Plot: 12.5/15
- Characters: 12/15
- World Building: 14/15
- Writing: 12/15
- Pacing: 10/15
- Originality: 12/15
- Enjoyment: 7.5/10
Final Score: 80/100 or 4/5 stars on Goodreads