So, I read this way back when it was first announced and I went to film a review for this and I just could not come up with words. There was a lot go over, there were a lot of details I didn’t remember so I went back to skim read as a refresher and actually I ended up just sinking into the story and doing a full re-read and enjoying myself a lot more on the second round.
So, there’s not a lot of what people call hand-holding or like, exposition in this book. Everything, more or less, is left up to reader to figure out on their own. So, I usually harp on about characters telling things they already know for the reader’s benefit, and this is like the extreme opposite of that approach. I do enjoy it, but it does take brainpower I don’t always have the time or investment for, it’s actually been a while since I’ve had a book this dense and complicated.
So, we’ve got three POVs, Nasha, Adrian, and Lynn. Nasha is kind of like this tribal woman who’s from an area known as the “slopes” but that’s not exactly a good thing. She’s tried very, very hard to rid herself of the title “sloper” and to be accepted into a clan known as the Ronar. So, the Ronar value strength and doing the hard thing and so Nasha murders a lot of people while assuring herself she’s not a monster. She’s also struggling with what she calls a curse, the ability to sense what other people are feeling. It makes her a really good scout and hunter because she can sense where people are and what their intentions may be, but she can also become overwhelmed. You don’t know exactly what happens when she loses her control, but she thinks everyone around her will die if she gets too overwhelmed and loses herself to others’ emotional input.
So, Adrian has found himself as the new heir to a kingdom that doesn’t allow people to talk about their dead. They follow a religion that values life above everything else, and this even goes so far as to never speak of those who have died… the reasoning being that if the goddess finds you worthy, she will give you eternal life, and there are Sentinels, priest like people of this world, who are like hundreds of years old. (The third POV, Lynn, is a Sentinel). So, Adrian’s brother dies but he doesn’t know how or why, only that his father sent him to a foreign land where he died and now everything has fallen on his shoulders. To make things worse, his wife is also dead and he’s trying to bring her back to life. He has an interesting storyline where he gets named the Lord of Light, and it really goes to his head. It’s a revered title and everywhere he goes people look at him like he’s some sort of savior and he starts to make rash and reckless decisions that lead to some bad shit.
Lynn has voices in her head. She’s a sentinel that I believe has been kicked out of the order. Sentinels by in large are the ones that kill so others don’t have to, they consider it their burden to bear — but she doesn’t want to anymore. She’s so tired of it, and we don’t know why she killed her friends, only that now her friend’s voices are in hear head. I found Lynn to be the most interesting and the most likable, she was trying to protect people as best she could, limit the body count behind her, and just stop all the death. So, she was kind of Nasha’s counterpoint. I also found her struggle with her religion to be fascinating and how she has to come to terms with what she’s thought for a lifetime might be wrong (and she’s 160 years old, so, it takes some self-reflection to question those beliefs).
All of these characters are kind of doing their own thing and I wasn’t quite sure how they were all going to relate to one another until closer to the end. Like, I kind of could guess at possible routes they could be taking to get to one another, but I was never sure. This whole book is just a big lead-up to the second book, it feels like a foundation book before something major kicks off. There’s a rage virus-like thing that’s spreading everywhere, it turns people’s eyes black and it’s like those zombie rage things you see in movies. They are no longer human, don’t feel pain, and only want to kill. How this was spreading and what it ended up being I thought was neat.
The writing was really great and if it weren’t for the prose making such strong scenes I may have gotten too lost in the story and DNFed. If you’re going to write a book this complicated and without much exposition then the scenes and writing have the be really well executed to keep me engaged with it, and this did on the first round through, and on the second round through I really got to sink into it and appreciate it even more.
Overall I’d recommend this to people who like epic fantasy with morally grey characters and in-depth world building.