*This was assigned to me as one of my SPFBO 2020 reviews*
Just look at that cover! LOOK AT IT. I was immediately drawn to the book for this reason, and it gives hints of superhuman magic and storms and darkness, so I was excited to start this one.
First, I'll start with what I liked about it. The writing was solid, with very few errors. The author clearly spent a lot of time honing her writing skills and investing time into good editing, which I appreciate. The writing wasn't over the top, and the descriptions really put you in the moment. I also enjoyed the politics and world-building. The world was well set-up, with interesting cultures and groups, but not too many that it's overwhelming. In particular, the manstheins are a fascinating species who are more human than animal, are thoughtful, resourceful, and generally look down on humans as inferior. It was a nice change, especially when the reader gets to experience the world through a mansthein POV. There is a mansthein military leader named Kolanin, and his was my favorite POV, by far. You get a good feel for the politics of this culture through his eyes, as well as the complications of establishing a military overtaking as well as establishing a new social order. Lin gives painstaking detail to the variations of cultural differences through food, clothing, fighting style, weaponry, language, lexicon, religion, philosophy, sayings, family... I was highly impressed. The worldbuilding was exceptional, and now I'm curious just how long she researched before actually putting pen to paper.
The genre was also interesting. It has wuxia elements without being entirely so, but also had an epic feel to it - not only in it's length (this is a long read, and takes a lot of concentration and effort to follow), but also in the magic system. Speaking of, the magic was unique. There is an element called sein, which is essentially a physical element that gives substance to "the force of one's personality, experience, and beliefs" according to the book's glossary. Each people group has a different way of using it, and throughout the story, time is given to different characters from different backgrounds teaching each other different cultural ways of how sein is appropriated.
Now, to the things I was... well, perplexed about. This was a massive undertaking, and while the story itself had interesting elements to it, I found the plot severely lacking and the characters stale (except for Kolanin). There are several POV's, but the main characters, as far as I could tell, were Tani, a girl who must travel the Chorhan Expanse to take her place as a warrior in her tribe, and Slaten, a healer with a complicated past. Kolanin had a large role in this story, as well. While the writing was foundationally solid, I didn't get a good sense of flare or style. It was, for lack of a better term, a bit boring to be in most of the POVs. There was action going on, but with more telling instead of showing, and the character voices weren't as distinct as I tend to prefer. Now, this is in large part (at least, in my opinion) to the intricate detail the author gave to world-building and politics, but it seemed that plot and style were sacrificed for this. Character growth and arc was hard to follow, so they seemed a bit one-dimensional.
The plot. Ah, the plot. There were themes running throughout - a Hero of Legend, who kept dying and another would take its place (this wasn't shown or told all that well, but I eventually caught on). There were moments of "look, this is really important what's about to happen!" and then, turns out it actually wasn't and didn't move the plot forward. There was quite a lot of time spent with characters doing mundane things - not necessarily a bad thing, but again, in my opinion when too much time is spent on this (for world-building purposes, of course) it doesn't move the plot at all. There is a way to weave plot and world-building together, so that progress is made, but the story falters in this area. It drags quite a lot, and there were times I forced myself to pick it back up, only to lose interest after one chapter and put it back down.
That's not to say this wasn't a good book. It was, in a lot of ways. Where it shined, it REALLY shined. But unfortunately, where it failed, it failed epically.
Now, that being said, this book is sure to have a fan following. I'm not sure I've read an indie book anywhere, ever, that ever comes close to the thoughtfulness and detail of the world. There was action to break up the mundane, and readers who don't mind telling instead of showing won't be put off. Those who are easily put off by writing mistakes will be happy, for the editing is superb.
Good luck to the author. I'm highly impressed at the time and effort it must have taken to invest into such a detailed world and story.