This was (almost) everything I wanted it to be. A solid, rip-roaring epic fantasy, with all the beloved elements of the genre. Usually when I pick up such a story, I rate it on four (albeit completely arbitrary and unique to myself) elements: magic, monsters, (wo)+men, and mayhem. All four of these things were *very* nearly there, and made my fantasy-loving heart oh so happy.
First, magic (and the only category with a docked half-point). The magic system was solid, but didn’t completely do it for me. I don’t mind unclarity (is that a word? If not, I declare it so) with magic. In fact, I prefer a little mystery to accompany the system, but this had a little TOO much fogginess with how it worked. I’m assuming it will become more concrete with the next installment of the series. But I would have preferred a little more clear lines with what it is and how it works. I feel like with certain POV’s, it could have been fleshed out more, particularly Rasmin’s. But generally, I enjoyed the unique element of music being a part of it, and the Shah was certainly an interesting concept. It will be cool to see how it (hopefully) becomes more defined in book 2.
Second, monsters. I love some good scary beasts adding unpredictability to a narrative. This book had it in spades. The shades were super scary and unique, and the chakran was downright terrifying. They kicked the intensity up a notch, and raised the stakes at times, so it had this element that I really enjoy and typically judge an epic fantasy by.
Third, (wo)+men, which is just a dumb way of talking about the characters while having everything start with an “m”. I thoroughly enjoyed ALL the characters, which is unusual for me. Usually there are one or two that I have complaints about, be it their character arc or motivations. But every single actor in this story was well-written, had believable motivations, and flowed well with what the author seemed to be trying to accomplish. Even the Maker, the god in this story, wasn’t typical. I love how the characters each interacted with him differently, had various ways they believed or didn’t believe, and how that affected each of their stories. Sable was a compelling main character, and the Wolf, while somewhat typical (at least, IMO) had elements to him that made him a bit different, too. I really loved the “is he a good guy or bad guy?” question throughout the whole book, and how it made him unique. There were snippets here and there throughout the book of fun, believable relationships. Wolf/Braddok and their friendship, the complicated Wolf/Sable thing going on, and even the sibling relationships the author delved into were awesome. My only complaint (very, very minor) was what happened with Astrid’s character arc. It was heartbreaking, in a way, but also made me both angry and unsatisfied. However, I think this is probably what the author was going for, and it in no way detracts from the story.
Lastly, mayhem. This book delivers on complicated plots, battles, fight scenes, and general madness that makes epic fantasy so fun and engaging to read. The author has a knack for pacing that is pretty unusual with epic fantasy, too. Most authors (usually unique to epic fantasy writers) can’t quite strike a good balance between worldbuilding and pacing the plot forward, but the author has mastered this. There wasn’t ever a point where I was bored by the descriptions of the world, because it was so masterfully woven into the narrative. Yet there wasn’t ever a time I was confused, either, by parts of the world because there wasn’t an explanation of it. YOU GUYS. This is so hard to do. I write epic fantasy, and this is the hardest part of writing it, hands down. It seems like this author literally had no issue with mastering this, and it makes me jealous. It seemed so effortless, so immersive, and kept the pacing of the book flawless. Major kudos.
All in all, this ties with one of my favorite epic fantasy reads this year. I’m really looking forward to book 2, and following this author’s career.