The fabulous sequel to 2019’s hit debut novel: Master of Sorrows.
Annev has avoided one fate. But a darker path may still claim him . . .
After surviving the destruction of Chaenbalu, new mysteries and greater threats await Annev and his friends in the capital city of Luqura. As they navigate the city’s perilous streets, Annev searches for a way to control his nascent magic and remove the cursed artifact now fused to his body.
But what might removing it cost him?
As Annev grapples with his magic, Fyn joins forces with old enemies and new allies, waging a secret war against Luqura’s corrupt guilds in the hopes of forging his own criminal empire. Deep in the Brakewood, Myjun is learning new skills of her own as apprentice to Oyru, the shadow assassin who attacked the village of Chaenbalu – but the power of revenge comes at a daunting price. And back in Chaenbalu itself, left for dead in the Academy’s ruins, Kenton seeks salvation in the only place he can: the power hoarded in the Vault of Damnation . . .
This review contains minor/major spoilers and are not intentional. Thank you to Will O Mullane at Gollancz for providing me a review. All thoughts are mine.
This is a masterpiece forged in the mountain of Kale. This is a huge sprawling epic that I would not be able to summarize within an entire review, it is that good. Somewhere I just wonder that this entire journey, this entire story is nothing more than Keos himself writing his own story. It was Keos that was cast from the Heavens, Keos that created goblins and un-natural creatures and for that he was deemed unworthy. Everyone swears that infernal God’s name in this book because Annev slowly begins to realize that the world of good is no longer becoming good. All the adults that he looks up to in this novel to aid him become in the end just that: villains. Many people claiming to help Annev are revealed to be some obscure servents of Gods or maybe Keos himself because Annev wears the golden hand of that God. And sometimes, it makes me wonder. What does Keos get out of all this at the end? He may be silent, but he is no fool. Keos is a master manipulator.
And this novel very clearly explains how people who are good-natured can turn into evil. Annev’s whole journey is like a parallel to this. Let’s not forget however, that Kenton is swearing revenge against him, for what obscure reason I am not particularly impressed with. Kenton was in love with Myjun, but did she ever return his affections so favorably once he was scarred? Myjun learns with her mentor, Oyru, and she discovers truths that are far more shocking when you read this story. I urge you, to read ALL the lore of this book. All the special manuscripts, the notes, every single thing. It makes sense as you read and as you discover along, you find so many secrets. I also was the type of reader going, ahhh and oooh and dammn. Writing a fantasy epic like this over 800 pages, keeping atop of all the orders, the names, the characters, this is no work that is rushed, but it shows a lot of hard work and dedication. I want to have this type of dedication. I can see why it took a year, it’s good! Really good. But a novel of this scale would have been proof-read, redrafted, edited many many times. I would take this into consideration. You have to read book 1 in order to understand the events of book 2.
I was not impressed with the way Annev made his decisions sometimes. In the novel, Annev, Titus, and Therin make their way to the Dionarchs. All I can say about the Dionarchs is that they are far worse than what Tosan and the Academy at Chalenbeau were. They are a bunch of self-hypocritical arsehole immortal beings with no sense of direction but to awake the silence of the Gods. And Reeve, who shall we say, is the leader of that presumed order, wants to use Annev as a tool. And this is where it goes worse. Annev is intelligent and realises when he is being used, but sometimes when he turned evil, I completely disagreed with what he was doing, and there were certain acts that he did that seemed a bit off-paced. I’d have gone with some different choices to show how he transitions to that type of villain. Many times you will see him doubt, you will see him worry, and you will not like what he is becoming. I was still satisifed with the fact that he can still retain and control his thoughts. But this is all Keos’s doing. Never mind all the damn Gods in this world, Keos is like the Loki of this world. Hidden but never seen, he is not present no. But he is there. In every step of the way.
That said, I am glad that most of the characters got their own time to shine as well: Therin and Titus got their own time, and they really are fun to read. I do wish they’d find some proper girlfriends, because they need it. And we got to see Crag, but I want MORE of him. He’s a fun character. Fyn and his gang of Ashes crew were brilliant, and I loved Fyn begin to mature, to question his previous behavior, and to also fall in love! I loved Sodja, and the entire story that is crafted around her. I didn’t enjoy Myjun at all, because I don’t agree with what she’s doing and her prejudices, but I respect what she seeks to find out, but she should have been an Assassin from the start. What was the point of her being raised by her father if she was nothing more than turning out to be someone who does horrible actions? While I can see why the morality of this world goes awry, I would ask that at least some morality, some sense is established. Because it seems to me, the Gods of this world are more evil than anything else. All fighting each other, all doing away with each other. If I was a character I would rage and start my own religion and be free from all this chaos. This world is chaos. Slavery, thievery, all of it! This is not a fun world to be in, and it makes me sad. I want to see the characters at least get a small measure of peace.
Oh, and I thought I would never enjoy Elder Tosan again. He is such a brilliant villain that I want to see more of him. I really miss Sodar, and I want him to come back. Sodar has to stop Annev, because he is the only sensible father-figure that can stop Annev from becoming too evil. The story is excellent, it is large, and it is huge. There’s a lot of lore as well. There’s gore and brutality as well, there’s love, loss, hope and misery. I didn’t like Annev becoming jealous of his friends, Therin and Titus when they stood up for him against Fyn and Kenton. Sometimes I wonder if Annev quietly contemplates using his powers to travel back into the past and change it. Would he prevent all that had happened?
This story is amazing, the worldbuilding is fantastic, the writing, description and prose is great. I really enjoyed this. 10/10 from me!
You have heard the story before – of a young boy, orphaned through tragic circumstances, raised by a wise old man, who comes to a fuller knowledge of his magic and uses it to fight the great evil that threatens his world.
But what if the boy hero and the malevolent, threatening taint were one and the same?
What if the boy slowly came to realize he was the reincarnation of an evil god? Would he save the world . . . or destroy it?
Among the Academy’s warrior-thieves, Annev de Breth is an outlier. Unlike his classmates who were stolen as infants from the capital city, Annev was born in the small village of Chaenbalu, was believed to be executed, and then unknowingly raised by his parents’ killers.
Seventeen years later, Annev struggles with the burdens of a forbidden magic, a forgotten heritage, and a secret deformity. When he is subsequently caught between the warring ideologies of his priestly mentor and the Academy’s masters, he must choose between forfeiting his promising future at the Academy or betraying his closest friends. Each decision leads to a deeper dilemma, until Annev finds himself pressed into a quest he does not wish to fulfil.
Will he finally embrace the doctrine of his tutors, murder a stranger, and abandon his mentor? Or will he accept the more difficult truth of who he is . . . and the darker truth of what he may become . . .
Masters of Sorrows is an unusual book for me. On the one hand, it’s a slow pace at the beginning for me. Many times, I felt when the story would move. On the other hand, as soon as I got halfway into the story, then it started to make sense. It’s got fantastic worldbuilding, great dialogue, and an easy-to-follow-along story. I resonated much with the imagery, the message of an unfair society, and the fact that disabled people have long been treated as impure in human history. It is a shame we live in a world where your disability is seen as your weakness when it is not and I applaud Justin for writing a fantasy that did just that. Then I could see the complex plans, the plots, the complexity involved and it gave me a much better appreciation of what the story is about. I thoroughly enjoyed the story once it started going and then on, it did feel slow-paced in some areas. Some scenes weren’t needed in my opinion, and some scenes could have been phased out. The story was slow-paced in description, scene, and dialogue, which I felt sometimes detracted from what the story was trying to do and tell Annev’s story. Many times, I also felt the narrator had his own bias about Annev as well.
The worldbuilding was rather complex at the beginning, however, it began to make more sense in the later stages of the story, I would have wanted a glossary at least for the names of places and a cast of characters which would have helped. Moving onwards, Justin has an eye for detail, noting the nooks, crevices of architecture, and the academy of Chaenbelau in which Annev studies. I was immersed into the father-son symbolic relationship which Sodar, his mentor, and a priest that runs the secluded village chapel in the Academy which is locked away from the rest of the world. He has been caring for him since he was a baby and he holds a secret that if revealed, would damage Annev’s life forever. Sodar was one of my most favorite characters and I eagerly await to see more of him in book 2. A man like him doesn’t die so easily. Sodar is always looking out for Annev, whether he is in this world or the spiritual world. I enjoyed that chemistry. The Elder Tosan who runs Annev’s academy is the biggest hypocrite in the world. The fact that these Ancients run an academy to retrieve magical artifacts and steal them, but declare magic a sin and anyone that’s deformed a Son of Keos is the stupidest thought. It’s no wonder why the Gods in this world look down upon humans in this world. I really enjoyed Crag, I love his name that Annev came up for him: Crack-Crack
Annev battles through constant emotions, turbulent circumstances that throw wrenches into his plans to marry Mjyun, Elder Tosan’s daughter. It, of course, doesn’t help that he’s trying to become an Avatar, battling the other boys that will become his companions in some form or the other. The entire story wrestles through that conundrum because Annev is talented, but he is held back by Tosan, who views Annev as being corrupted by Sodar’s influences. Annev can think for himself, something which I like. This novel could be characterized as a YA novel, but it isn’t. Quite frankly its characters can think for themselves if I’m rather honest. I enjoyed so many characters, some scenes made me laugh. Scenes which made my eyebrows go up, scenes in which I did not enjoy Annev’s love obsession with Mjyun when he can find the right woman, and I was right there with Sodar groaning at Annev’s mistakes. But when you’re young, you don’t know half the time what is right and what is wrong. When you’re an adult you realize the world is a blank slate, not everyone is good or evil, but there are plenty of humans willing to do more for greed and desire than anything else and that’s where Annev finds himself to be really.
Overall, this is a great story. To try the summarize the entire story would take eons because it is a fantasy epic. I enjoyed this, and I think you will too
KING. POLITICIAN. WARRIOR. CONQUEROR.
1189. Richard the Lionheart’s long-awaited goal comes true as he is crowned King of England. Setting his own kingdom in order, he prepares to embark on a gruelling crusade to reclaim Jerusalem.
With him on every step of the journey is Ferdia, his loyal Irish follower. Together they travel from southern France to Italy, to the kingdom of Sicily and beyond.
Finally poised to sail to the Holy Land, Richard finds a bitter two-year-long siege awaiting him. And with it, the iconic Saracen leader responsible for the loss of Jerusalem, Saladin.
No one can agree who should fill the empty throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Saladin’s huge army shadows Richard’s every move. Conditions are brutal, the temperatures boiling, and on the dusty field of Arsuf, the Lionheart and his soldiers face their ultimate test…
Crusader is a stunning historical epic. A historical epic that has riveting battle scenes, rip-roaring thumping action combined with the stories of legendary rulers and kings in a brutal yet one of the most famous eras of warfare. The Crusades. Ben Kane has done an outstanding job on the prose, the writing, the background, and the historical research. In many ways, the world of the Third Crusade comes alive. This is when Richard the Lionheart, King of England and ruler of many dukedoms, lead the third Crusade to take Jerusalem and defeat the Saracens, although the actual name, in reality, would be the Ayyubid Caliphate. The Third Crusade needs no actual spoilers: it was a legendary contest of two legendary rulers, Richard the Lionheart and Salah ad-Din (Or in our words which we know, he would be known as Saladin) trying to negotiate while trying to simultaneously attack each other. Brutality in this period is evident, and there is not much one can do about it but read on.
Ben Kane noted that many of the events in the book if you begin to study the Third Crusade, make for a Hollywood movie. There was one particular scene in history where Richard the Lionheart rode ahead to the Ayyubid encampment and shouted for anyone to challenge him. Ben Kane has produced this scene in such cinematic glory I have to commend him. He’s done a fabulous job on the historical research and the fruits of it are showing themselves when the world comes alive. Every character, major or minor, historical or not feels like a real world. Fantasy writers can take a cue from the worldbuilding because Ben Kane’s historical sources were plenty. Every three sources he found came from Christian sources, and every two came from Muslim sources of that time. Most of the events that happened in the Third Crusade were crazy. Things that would only belong in a Hollywood movie script. But it did happen as much as Ben Kane admitted.
This novel covers many historical events, and this is where I think the distinctions between the English and the French nobility begin to emerge along with the continuation of a rivalry where the English and French don’t trust each other. The French, according to the English viewpoint, was haughty and arrogant. To the French, the English under Richard the Lionheart went around looting and pillaging Sicily, Cyprus, and Acre. There is so much historical accuracy in this novel it oozes with it. I am impressed. This is a book that could easily have been a movie or a TV series. I enjoyed this. With regards to the criticism, some scenes did drag on, and I liked many of the characters which are too innumerable to name. Though I do say that Ferdia is having the time of his life in this novel along with Rhys. They are engaged in so many conflicts, so many battles, so many wars, it’s hilarious to think that the Third Crusade was bascially a gigantic boxing match. A lot of it could have been prevented. But of course, both Richard and Saladin faced domestic struggles in their courts which prevented them from fully facing each other in battle. Their rivalry reminded me of Hannibal and Scipio for that matter. And more or less, this is a book focused on Richard the Lionheart as much as it is focused on Ferdia acting as part of Richard’s retinue. You begin to see that Richard the Lionheart was a legendary King, a man that was born to be a legend. He is equal to Alexander, Achillies, Ceasar, Augustus in terms of wit, cunning, and strategy. His opponent, Saladin was equal to many of the great Generals of the Parthian Empire and many legendary Kings of his time. They were both larger than life, and I say this. Put Richard the Lionheart in any period, and he would have had men of many nations serving him. He was that charismatic.
The writing is fantastic. This is a stunning historical epic that you need to read. I would go into more detail but I think I’ll let the book do that for you. To produce such an amazing piece of work, to fully realize it, is astounding. I am in awe and this is a book you need to buy and read.
Connor Magnuson is going to conquer Death itself.
A penniless drifter, Connor has survived the last eight years alone in a cursed woodland teeming with monsters that eat grown men whole. Shunned, forgotten, and with nowhere else to go, he looks death in the eye every night and draws his sword to face it. The forest, after all, burned the fear out of him long ago.
Still, it hasn’t hardened the last shreds of his heart quite yet. When Connor hears a mysterious girl scream in the middle of nowhere, he ends up in a brutal battle that nearly costs him his life. His bravery does not go unrewarded, and in the aftermath of the fight, he finds himself bonded to the most infamous enchantment the world has ever seen: the Wraith King. The undead abomination grants him godlike power, but legendary magic always comes with a cost. Even as his fellow outcasts flock to him for help, Connor is branded as an outlaw. Kings and lords alike know where the wraith has gone, and they’ll slit his throat to take it from him. To them, a peasant like Connor is unworthy. He’s a mistake to be corrected, and nothing more.
But Connor is no ordinary man, and he’ll drag those hunters to hell with him if that’s what it takes to protect what is his.
This review contains minor/major spoilers – you read at your own risk.
I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Wraithblade is one of those stories where you don’t get bored at all. The story’s blurb itself sets out the path for you. There’s a crazy King called Henry who uses the Wraith King for expansion, for greed, for conquest and as a result, ends up dying. The King loses himself, his self-being, and his sense of morality almost. And in comes Connor, a man that no one knows about but he is a peasant and he gets connected to the Wraith King. And in between all of this, he becomes entangled in a plot of myriad political conspiracies involving powerful families and a jealous lord named Ottwell who is a despicable man, a man that is for sure the puppeteer. Ottwell often drives the story forward, and when you read the book, you’ll see traces of his grand plan here and there, subtly or not. If it’s one thing Ottwell excels at, he’d make a really good disciple of Darth Vader. That’s for sure. Ottwell reminds me of those men in history who have only ever served their lords and masters until the time is right to betray them. I wouldn’t trust Ottwell with a stick. Ottwell is the type that will betray you for coin or sacrifice your ambitions for his. That’s how well written Lord Ottwell is written.
This story is vast, and it contains many character arcs that have some good ending’s in my opinion. My favorite character was the disgraced Blackguard Murdoc masquerading himself as one of those stubborn, highly arrogant actors from a play that thinks too highly of himself. Murdoc is one of those rogue-like characters that surprise you in the end. Murdoc was funny, witty and his reactions were very engaging. Many times I felt that if Murdoc hadn’t been there, well the story needed him. He felt real enough, and he is good as a device to make the story for you to guess often of what might happen next. The Wraith King was one of those characters that I didn’t expect to like, but I’ve grown attached to him. I have a nagging suspicion that the Wraith King could be Connor’s father, my reason for this is because sure, the Wraith King is a powerful lord that thirsts for war and power. But you’ll notice, he often keeps an eye on Connor as if he were a son to him. My theory could be false, and let it be so.
But when you see a shrouded skeleton hovering over you and talking to you intensely, I wonder if some secrets need to be revealed. As for Connor, our main character, I felt his personality didn’t shine enough because this is the first book. In the first book of any fantasy series, I’ve come to accept that the main character doesn’t always need to be compelling within the first few pages. It takes time for us humans to express our personalities given in a new environment and we won’t be perfect right off the bat. Within the next 2-3 books, you will see his personality shine through. Because Connor is a perfect example of an interrogator crossed with a good man’s principles. Connor is a truth-seeker. He can expose the truth out of anyone. He’s dangerous. He’s forewarned a lot of people not to mess with him. This is why we have Murdoc and Sophia. Sophia is an elegant, beautiful woman who has also been involved in the arts of necromancy. She’s brash, she’s opinionated and she often is a loyal friend. She has loyalty, something which is rare in a world full of monsters and creatures trying to eat each other. Murdoc and Sophia balance Connor perfectly, and I think this chemistry will expand on into the second book.
There were some particularly favorite moments in the book. There was a scene in particular where Ethan the burly carpenter had helped Connor so to say and arrives in an Inn. A couple arrives saying they were attacked by fearsome beasts. Then comes a mysterious rumor of a ‘shade’. A hero that helps people. Ethan bursts out in embarrassment when drinking his ale. That scene made me laugh. Ethan and his family were really good characters and I want to see them in the second book. There are many such scenes in this book, involving some really powerful characters. Quinn was also good with her large fearsome pet, Blaze. I liked how she reacted to the world around her and she’s not stupid. I like that in a character. But there’s a lot more of her that I won’t discuss about because you’ll figure it out.
Aside from this, I have immense respect for the author and her ability to write fighting scenes in elaborate detail, and her ability to write good prose. Good prose is hard to come by. She often balances the prose between elaborate details of grand buildings and contrasts that with the uniforms of soldiers, nobles and guards. This is a good detail. However, sometimes I felt the story became too bogged down with those elaborate details when it wasn’t needed. As a nitpick, I sometimes found this to become almost too technical. For example, some scenes had too much detail of sword-fighting, and while I don’t mind that, it slowed the pace down for me a lot. The sword fighting was realistic and accurate. It didn’t feel to me that it was some elaborate battle design set-piece with fancy moves. Connor’s ability to become powerful helps from his connection to the Wraith King. The story often picks up when certain truths are exposed. Connor, Murdoc, and Sophia are all holding truths that they don’t want to reveal.
My criticism of this that sometimes it went into the niche of well we have characters that are brooding, and I’ve read in other fantasy novels characters that are brooding all the time. My only suggestion is to have Connor and Murdoc have their personalities shine more in the second book. I want them to start enjoying life a little more, I want them to laugh at a comedy play or something like that. And the book does that well, but I’d also want way more interaction between Murdoc and the Wraith King. That really would be a fun and plentiful exchange and would be a delight to read. Sometimes there was a lot of telling vs showing which is inevitable because, in a 700-page book, you can’t get everything right. There were some errors with the spacing of full stops in the quotation marks when I read on my kindle fire. Some scenes were slow-paced and I think that dragged the story down. Some scenes weren’t needed in my opinion. It doesn’t detract from the wonderful story that it is, but it feels like another round of editing would have gone away with some filler scenes here and there.
I feel that in the end, writing a 700-page book is not easy, and the author has done a wonderful job. The story was strong enough to come across the pages, confident of its elaborate worldbuilding. My criticism is that there wasn’t a map provided and that there was talk of a world beyond a desert. I do hope the author will add some fantasy Arabian/Indian style kingdoms or empires, or even an Ottoman Inspired empire. I would like to see something like that. But that is only a wish, not a suggestion. I believe that in the end, this story is thoroughly worth reading. It’s a fun fantasy read at the end of the day. I also listened to some ambience music: Pillars of Eternity Ambience which if you search on YouTube you’ll find. It’s a really good story and I recommend it.
You can get the book from the author’s site: https://smboyce.com/books/wraithblade-saga-book-1-wraithblade/
Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.
Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.
Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.
Thank you to Nazia, Orbit Books, for providing me an ARC to review this book. All opinions are just that, my opinion.
This review contains minor spoilers so you read at your own risk.
This is a gut-wrenching debut full of stories long forgotten. That have been buried under the sands. You will witness stories of betrayal, characters being forced to do actions they don’t like, characters that have a strong sense of loyalty to their families. That dear reader, is what this story tells you. A wonderful yet tragic tale at the same time. It is a story that exposes the brutality of colonialism and oppression bringing the harsh reality of life under colonial rule in over five hundred pages is not only just a glimpse, just a viewpoint. No. It is an achievement. I am so impressed with the way this novel has been written. It takes a lot of time, though, and process to not only understand what was the motives behind colonialism but to also illustrate this with magic, gods and so many cultural influences from the Berbers to the Algerians, to Arabian style tribes and I could hint a detection of Ancient Egyptian influences. This is a novel in 2021 that has to be read. I am telling you, the amount of betrayal and trickery one has to go through to read this novel, to witness the characters Touraine and Luca embark on a journey of self-discovery, hurt, and pain to finally realize that all of this conflict, is in the end for nothing.
I studied French Colonial History and I especially studied Algeria during that time. So from one student of this subject to another, I applaud you, C.L Clark. You’ve done your work. You’ve done your research. You’ve shown the rich culture that North Africa has had on the European World which has been often ignored. Carthage had a massive influence when it ruled Spain and North Africa until it came to war with the Roman Republic. Then came the Numidians who had helped the Romans against Hannibal, only to find that their payment for their loyalty was their destruction. Then came the Roman rule of North Africa for centuries until the break up of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires and the arrival of Islam into North Africa, which then included the Maghreb and which the Ottoman Admiral, Piri Res would establish his mark over there, and then, of course, the Barbary Pirates, the Ottoman Empire’s influence. This amount of history in itself is to draw attention to the fact that I could draw many comparisons too. But North Africa is a perfect setting for fantasy and I am so glad C.L Clark chose French North Africa as a subject on to base her fantasy. (Plus she’s studied the subject so kudos. Well done). French Colonial Rule is a conundrum in and by itself in many aspects. On the one hand, they did for some time agreed to listen to their colonial subjects, but then took those concerns away, and established the main axis of power within the French settlers that were outnumbered by their Algerian/Vietnamese native populations. The Balladarians are pretty much like that, in many senses. They take all the best positions, shops, merchants you name it. The Qazali don’t get much for it in return. It’s a pretty raw deal if you ask me.
Do you want to see how this all works? Let me summarise it in a way that will keep track of the world events to not spoil the whole story. Touraine was a child that lived in the Shalan Empire. The Balladarian Empire comes in and conquers it. Now Touraine arrives back into her native lands, as a part of a regiment called the Sands. The Sands, however, are just cannon fodder. They’re just there to be sent into battle with no consideration. They are educated in the Balladarian way yes, they may talk and speak like Balladarians, but they are not true Balladarians. The Balladarians don’t see them that way. Especially General Cantic. And boy, is she the most difficult character in this book. A woman that is suited for power, I don’t think she even needed to be in this land. She needed to be back in Balladaria securing power for herself. That is what I felt. She is supremely one of the most brilliant grey characters you will come across in this book. Difficult to deal with. But then again, she’s leading one of the most dizzying experiences. She has to deal with riots, rebellions, and deal with the usurpation of power. But she’s exactly the type of general that if I were an Emperor, I would not want her to be my enemy. She is, of course, having tendencies of disloyalty. And too much loyalty can be bad sometimes now, can’t it?
The Balladarians, considering themselves so civilized and think that their architecture is so superior compared to the ‘mud-brick’ architecture that the people of Qazali prefer, that they export marble architecture into the lands of the Qazali. I wonder then, how popular it is. It won’t be. Revolts are brewing in the Shalan Empire’s former colonies. The Balladarians, being as arrogant as ever, refuse to see that their brutal rule is causing the Qazali to form rebellions, striking at their resources, using animals, they are wanting the Balladarians out. Now that’s not a secret in and by itself, the blurb itself tells you that. The Balladarians are in my opinion, the barrier to progress. They are in effect, just like the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. How? Well when Ptolemy and the Greeks settled in Alexandria and established their new Kingdom, they saw Ancient Egyptians as inferior. They had segregated streets from the Ancient Egyptians, and the Ancient Egyptians lamented, calling upon the fact that they had four thousand years of history. Yet that was all being ignored. I have no doubt the Qazali are feeling the same. And they may call friends from certain places….(One which you’ll be able to figure out!)
Bear in mind, this is a slow-paced military fantasy novel. Once it gets going, its pace is well structured. However, there were some scenes that I felt could have been cut out as it was dragging the story arc sometimes a little too off-tangent. Some scenes could have been shortened when it came to some military battles and more emphasis should have been on twists in my opinion. There are many elements of the novel where you’ll have this fantastic battle scene, or finding out what’s behind XYZ, but then it’ll have other scenes that sometimes could have been used in other areas. Mostly the pacing is fine, but I felt some scenes could have been shortened a bit. There’s a lot of mythology regarding the Qazali and their neighbours. But I felt all of that amazing mythology that is reiterated during this novel could easily be a standalone novel. Easily. There’s so much tantalizing mythology that I would read a standalone novel. That’s where this minor criticism is coming from.
Rogan reminds me of the brutal officers that were sent to the colonies. I remember reading a part in a historical academic book that discussed French colonial rule in Algeria. At one point the story goes that the French had to deal with rebellions. One particular rebellious group ran into the mountains. The Captain ordered the troops to burn the rebels, all of them including families inside a cave. That is how history is sometimes. The Ancient Romans for that matter would have been destroying rebels in North Africa plenty of times, including the Numidians. But I do not see why Rogan would not do the same to the Qazali rebels. He is a dangerous man. Rogan however, needed more emphasis. I wonder what role he will play coming in the sequel.
Touraine is eager to show her loyalty to the Balladarian Empire. That much is evident and is the core focus of Luca’s and Touraine’s chemistry together. However, I compare Touraine’s plight to the other soldiers of the Sands regiment. They are like the Senegalese troops of WWII that were conscripted by France to fight in WWII. They fought with distinction and were in the thick of the fighting during the Battle of France against Germany. However, after the war, they were promised full citizenship and equal rights. Something which took a long time for the French Government to even acknowledge. The concept of citizenship will come up somewhere in this novel. You’ll soon see why. Luca is also acquiring her form of power, her motive to prove that she is worthy to inherit the throne of Balladaria. But of course, gaining power in an empire where a den of snakes infests the political landscape is like a lizard trying to escape that den of snakes before it gets swallowed. Luca is that lizard. She will have to comprehend with more than just people, she’ll have to comprehend with forces beyond her imagination that will test the romantic chemistry of Luca and Touraine’s relationship.
Touraine and Luca’s chemistry are a slow burn but probably for deliberate reasons – to introduce the world that is there. The politics and situation that the story puts on both characters make the romance more realistic, but at the same time, it does show signs of some under-development that could have been improved in pacing areas for that time. But the politics of power proves a mighty strain on both of them, on the personality of their character, and it eventually stems down to this: Touraine and Luca are good people. They want to do good. But the way Colonialism works doesn’t allow good people into its system. Because colonialism was built on the exploitation of other people, and then when good people do come, the system chews it up. Does this refer to all elements of colonialism to be equally worse than the other? Not exactly. Some parts of colonialism did benefit the local natives that betrayed themselves to the foreign powers. Some parts of colonialism had people benefiting from advanced technology. Remember I’m putting a very vague bracket here. I have an Indian background, so of course, I could go and talk about the impact of British rule in India. But that’s not the point. The point is that this novel is showing what colonialism forces people to become: something entirely else.
We could refer to the Ancient World for that matter. What about Parthian Princes that were sent by the Parthian Kings as a sort of exchange to Rome. They were Roman educated and had been brought up in Roman Culture. Then I ask you this. Did they not feel conflicted when it came to proving their loyalty to Rome or Parthia? Did they not go through the same questions that Touraine is forced to go through? This has been happening all the time throughout human history. During the Sengoku Jidai, which was Japan’s massive and brutal civil war in which medieval warlords known as Daimyos would exchange their sons as hostages to each other’s clan. Same thing. Or let’s look at Bernadotte. Marshal Bernadotte is a famous figure in French history. He was the man that Napoleon valued as a General, but often was insubordinate and refused to follow orders.
At one point he was offered the crown of Sweden which has led to the established dynasty of Sweden that is ongoing till today. Moving back to the point, when Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 to punish Russia and achieve a decisive victory (he was taking the biggest gamble that cost him his empire because of his campaign), Bernadotte made Sweden successful, to say the least. He didn’t like Napoleon’s Continental system, and he had good relations with the Russian Tsar Alexander, during the invasion. Long story short: Bernadotte betrayed Napoleon after the 1812 campaign joining in the Sixth Coalition against Napoleon. Bernadotte taught the allies how to defeat Napoleon. This is just an instance of many outcomes of history where betraying the other side changes the entire outcome of events. It is hard, it is personal, and it is not a pleasant experience to go with when betrayal happens. Many of these historical parallels I’ve just made now relate in some form of manner of the events that will happen within this book. Not a direct comparison, but inspired.
So when you read this book, keep these events in mind. There are many good characters: The evil but cunning Beau-Sang who is a horrible man. The bully of a bully, Captain Rogan who I think needed more character development. Touraine’s mother, Jaghotai whom I didn’t like at all and didn’t agree with her reasoning over her daughter. Djasha and Jaghotai’s wife, were really good characters. The bookseller was awesome. This world is alive. I’ll tell you that. You’ll have Qazali people dancing, drummers drumming the drums, music being played, bread and olives being eaten. A clear distinction is shown between the people of the Qazali and the Balladarians and their neighbors. You’ll figure out which is which, what is what, and how and why everything happens.
Just know that I’m on the side of Touraine, and that I felt Luca’s manipulative chances of forming chemistry with Touraine, to use her as a weapon, as a bridge between Balladarian and Qazali leads to some very interesting outcomes. The writing is so well researched that I feel I’m in a different world many times. I feel as if I’m in the lands of Qazali. There are breath-taking descriptions of Grand Temples, of musket warfare. I think I might have missed a cannon here or there. Every Empire demands a revolution yes? Well, this novel calls for an entire evolution of the outdated concepts that the Balladarians carry about the Qazali, and it demands an entire revolution for the Qazali to remove these Balladarians. Then, of course, not one side is evil nor is bad. That’s what the novel will make you think. The narrator is a very clever character by itself. It makes you feel for each character, it convinces you that one side is right. But I said. Hold on. Not everybody is perfect. Human makes mistakes. We all do. Colonialism is a study of the past. Human history is dark.
But sometimes, we can see the bright spots. Sometimes, hope does come. Anyway, all my historical thoughts are just that, an opinion. Nothing more. I don’t claim to be historically accurate in my review. I’m just drawing parallels to certain moments of history that I’ve read and compared this novel to. This is very much like a Desolation of Peace. In very many senses it is. Also, it is a fantastic novel. Amazing and well-researched writing and the world is alive. I already want a Netflix adaptation of this book. You’ve done an amazing job. C.L. Clark. Fantastic work. The fact you’ve manged to get this student of history draw so many historical parallels is amazing. But the major fact is, you’ve given me a new fantasy world that isn’t medieval Europe and while I do enjoy reading it, this feels like a fresh, new unique world. I can’t wait to read book 2!
It’s a 10/10 from me.