When I first picked this up in my quest to read all the SPFBO finalists from last year, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’d heard great things, of course, but I tend to not get my hopes up when it comes to high reviews of books. I’m so happy this book exceeded my expectations.
The start of the book was a bit too brutal for my tastes, so I almost DNF’d it. But the characters made me love them right off the bat, so I kept with it. Although the violence is heavy, and the content dark, I was sucked into this world where light shines in unlikely places.
First, the characters are fantastic. Rah, with his honor, and the way he stands up for even his enemies. Miko, with her courage and loyalty. Cassandra, with her wit and intelligence. All three fight against internal and external struggles, making them well-rounded, fleshed-out, and downright believable.
Second, the plot has just enough twists to keep you on the edge of your seat, but without sacrificing world building. This is a hard balance to navigate when writing fantasy. The author does a phenomenal job.
Third, the magic system is understated without being forgettable, and unique without being overdone. Again, the way the author balances this tightrope act is incredible. There isn’t any explanations for WHY some things are the way they are, which is one reason this isn’t a total 5 stars for me, but I’m hoping it comes out in the next book. I don’t mind a good mystery, or leaving the reader questioning, but my personal preference is to have a broader understanding of the magic in the world.
All in all, this is a phenomenal read if you like dark epic fantasy with creative work building, well balanced magic, deep characters, and flashes of light to break up the shadows. Can’t wait for the next book.
UPDATE #1: This book was originally assigned to BookNest.eu & Michael McLendon for the first round of the SPFBO 2018, but we decided to promote it directly to a Semi-Finalist status thanks to Rob's review.
UPDATE #2: We offered this book as a Senlin Safety Net Candidate, and Fantasy Book Critic selected it as their Finalist. We've given it a 8.5/10 score for the second round of the SPFBO.