Whew guys, this is an ENORMOUS book. I think it was in the top three for the longest books submitted to the competition. Goodreads clocks it in at 780 pages.
There is a LOT going on with the world building here. It is staggeringly immense. There are nine different earths and the race of Kandar people “watch over them” if you will. The nine different earths all have very different “realities”, some of them have magic, other don’t, some go to war, others don’t, and one world has even been “reset” meaning all humanity was wiped clean off of it and started over again.
The Kandar are an eternal race, they have bodies that wither and die, but they are recycled and reborn. If I recall correctly, there were 900 of them originally created, and there have only ever been 900 souls made. New bodies are generational, but the souls as per my understanding, are forever. However, if a body is lost, so is the soul, it has to be returned and recycled to continue on with the reincarnations.
This is pretty important considering the future queen of Kandar is like, “nah fuck this shit I’m out” and sets off on a raft away from her home. She’s gotten “bored”. She’s eternal, there’s no pain, or growth, or stimulation on this island of trees. It’s just an ageless, timeless, unchanging existence and she’s now experiencing a longing to set off away from the island, despite her tree-creators telling her that’s a death sentence, that there’s nothing out there but water. If that’s true, she’s set off with her sister on a journey to meet their end and lose two Kandar souls in the process (if they drown their bodies can’t be returned and recycled), and so two souls never to return to the collective.
Honestly, that would be a kind of a darkly funny way to end a book right as it started, but obviously, when they set out on their raft it isn’t just endless water. They are setting off to go fulfill the purpose of the Kandar people and end their exile. They are supposed to be linked to the human race and even mimic human behaviors that they don’t technically need to be doing — like sleeping. But they’ve been separated and exiled for a long time and Tchardin, the MC, wants to find a way to restore their bond/link with humans and end their exile.
There are other characters other than Tchardin but I feel like she took up the majority of the page time. It actually led to a little bit of a wonky pacing issue for me. Pacing is honestly one of my biggest quibbles with this book, and the extensive in your face world building on page 1. So, I am not someone who wants to know every last detail of a world and culture before I get to know the characters, and in the beginning of this book the characters absolutely played second fiddle to laying a foundation for the world. This will be a personal taste thing and I think you’re either going to be really loving it or struggling in the beginning. If you can make it past the first few chapters it eases up a bit and we get to see the characters and their personalities a little better. Tchardin isn’t necessarily the most likeable character but I did think she had a unique personality that made her stand out from other characters I’ve read this year.
I actually liked another character more, Kadailin. They are an outcast from this society and I liked that you learned just as much about their culture through her as you do through other character’s, but from an utterly different perspective. I must say that the author does a great job of creating an alien-like culture that does not resemble humanity very much at all. Kadailin is unable to see the auras that are so important to her society. Tchardin has a golden aura that marks her as the to-be queen, and most of the Kandar recognize one another through aura and not through physical appaerance. Given that Kadailin can’t see auras she has a unique way of looking at her own ‘tribe’ as it were. She’s also unable to connect to the hive-mind, which sets her outside of society and makes her a little more relatable because she feels more ‘human’.
I liked the overall theme of this book being question what you’re told. The trees are the creators of this kandar race and they imbue knowledge to them pre-birth, and their word is said to be law. The Kandar don’t question it, or hadn’t until Tchardin. It’s a very philosophical book and focused on moral conundrums and not so much on magical battles and sword fights. I would not call this an action packed book, lol.
This is ultimately a cut, but if you enjoy a super in-depth world and alien-like cultures I think you could enjoy this one. I also want to preface that I may have gotten some of these world building bits slightly wrong, mea culpa, there was just so, so much to take in. I tried taking fastidious notes, lol.