For all of the serious tone and subjects in this book, it’s just plain fun to read. FUN. I enjoyed myself as each word sunk its mini grappling hooks into me, page after page. And it all started with a map…
Let’s start with that map that is included at the very beginning of the book. It helped me to look at that before starting to read, for spatial reasons, to have an idea of the distances between places. Voinov’s words take care of the descriptions of those places and made it easy for my brain to paint those pictures. Doesn’t hurt that I love maps.
To me, Kendras is a game changer. This entire story is about how things are changing in this world of Dalman, Fetin, the Temple City and so much more. This story is about how Kendras is changing, both as a result of his own growth and that forced upon him by changes in those around him.
Adrastes is a true leader but wants the simple things in life and will get them, at any cost, to bring them in line with his definition of such a life. Kendras attempts to keep priorities: for the kingdom and Adrastes, and for the Scorpions, his men. These goals are not always in alignment.
Selvan the slave is a key, maybe the key, to them all. A grounding force exemplified from a most powerful place: on his knees. He’s the hidden heart of this story for me and Kendras needs him, most of all for the friendship and trust.
Runner is a woman of strength who doesn’t want anyone unduly using theirs on her again. Kendras opens the world of possibilities for her and is probably gaining an unexpected and very strong ally.
Widow is still widow, a jerk you need and want around. He may say those jerk type things but they’re surrounded in truth. Kendras is smart to take in what he says, even when he doesn’t want to or it causes him to question things… and people. Undoubtedly, ya’ll, Widow: a walking truth of brutally clever insights, and barbs. We have still only seen the top few layers of this man.
From page one, we’re properly dumped right into the story, the intrigue, the doubts and desires. It never really stops. This is a true fantasy, with the characters, locations, names and a few ‘foreign’ words here and there. However, it is never at a level that would preclude enjoyment by a reader who may consider themselves a member of the “I read fantasy-lite” camp, of which I am. This is partly achieved by the historical feel by means of detail in clothing, food and overall culture. It still feels like this could be Persia from millennia ago. Lite fantasy with a robust historical twist? Yes, please and thank you.
Amidst all of this fantasy, there are incredibly human, quiet, emotionally wide open moments. They bring everything into a different focus and up the ante on the larger wheels in motion and the dangerous possibilities. For everything he’s been through, Kendras continues to reveal these moments, reveal himself within them. I actually sighed more than once.
All of this *points up* is what storytelling is all about: creating complex people in a complicated setting and bringing every bit of it to its collective knees through gestures and words dripping with implications at the very personal level. They’ll either change everything or nothing, and both outcomes make me care about these characters.
Graukar. Enemy? Secret ally? Lover? Traitor? He starts out as a reluctantly accepted general to newly crowned King Adrastes. After that? We gain wee glimpses to the answers and questions, and more. Besides Widow, he’s the only other man to truly pique Kendras’ curiosity. Bonus: he does it without biting wit and verbal burns. In fact, the opposite. Mmmm hmmm. He manages to touch parts of Kendras that no one else has before reached. Not even Adrastes. Though, without some of those past experiences that involved the king, then an Officer, Kendras may not have been as capable of allowing himself to feel these touches of Graukar’s. The beauty of timing. Bigtime bonus #2: Graukar and Kendras together are hot.
Just to give you an idea of the questions we are left to ponder, wring our literary hands over, discuss and plain ole grin about the fact that a book makes us think like this. Who will conquer whom? Who will survive their destiny? Does Kendras play it smart? Play at all? What will come of Adrastes and Kendras? Graukar and Kendras? Will the secrets save or destroy them? At what cost? What of the heartbeat of them all, Selvan? What of the other Scorpions like Dev, Kiran and Riktan? Runner?
I came up with one thing that may lead to some answers. Everyone is looking for the truth, in whatever form they feel the need, especially Kendras. Sometimes when you choose to trust someone, without knowing why, their worth is revealed to be more than you could have predicted.
The flip side of trust is betrayal. That is definitely what seems to be happening, and people have their reasons and they feel legitimate, but there will be consequences. How those will manifest is yet to be seen. We’ve only seen the initial volleys and the bombs haven’t landed on the other side of the various walls yet.
A side note: listen, Shadow, Graukar’s brother… yeah, we need more of him and more of him with someone, someone to both knock that fantastic smirk off his face, only now and then, and have fun doing it.
Amrash. I won’t even say anything further. This character is now and will forever be one of the best supporting I’ve ever encountered in a work of fiction. Talk about bang for your buck.
The surprises and twists continue and deepen in this book, spreading their roots and branches further and in more unpredictable patterns. My insides still feel sore from being tossed around like a well-worn ragdoll. I somehow have survived my own attack by the Scorpions.
Voinov knows emotion, knows human beings and our tendencies, our unavoidable foibles and hopes, our needs. He knows the heart. He knows what it means to fight for the life you want. He shows all of that in this book. If you want all of that, read this. I wanted all of that and got it. Thank you, AV.
This review was originally published at Prism Book Alliance and is in reference to the e-book.
I was provided an ARC by Riptide Publishing in exchange for my review, as well as I own my own copy.