Star rating: 3.5 stars.
I’d been super excited to read this story since January, and two weeks ago I was finally able to finish it. It took me longer to read than I’d hoped (about two months), mostly because I was reading it on kindle rather than paperback, so some of the details from the first quarter or so are a bit fuzzy, but here are my basic thoughts on it.
I went into this book expecting a grand adventure set in a really vivid desert fantasy world, but I quickly realized this is a much more character-driven story and the first quarter was all about establishing those characters and fleshing out their relationships, which I found myself pretty okay with. I was rooting for the characters, I wanted to see them resolve the initial relational conflict, and that was really cool. The character dynamics were really compelling in that first quarter, and while I didn’t especially connect with most of the characters, that’s pretty normal for me, and I was still able to like them, so it didn’t really bother me.
Interestingly enough, it was when the adventure I was expecting set in that I started to connect with the book less and less. Part of this was my own high expectations. I was looking forward to incredibly immersive worldbuilding, and this book just wasn’t quite there, for me. I think if I hadn’t had the expectations I did, I would have enjoyed the world just fine, because the worldbuilding is definitely strong, it just didn’t pull me in as much as I was hoping it would. The aivenkaites were especially interesting, and the battles between them and the main characters and the kaites were cool to read. And the axex! I loved the axex.
I was also anticipating more action surrounding the plagues and other Moses-based events, and those aren’t really dwelt on very much. The plagues, especially, felt kind of rushed to me, and I would have liked to be able to see the effects of the plagues on the land and the Izyphorns rather than just hearing their reactions?
When the main plot set in, there was also less time to focus on the characters, and additional characters were introduced who I feel like didn’t get enough attention as they maybe could have or weren’t used to their full potential. When we meet the bandits, for instance, a lot of page space is spent reminding the reader of each character’s ethnicity instead of showing the details of their ethnicity or letting the character speak for themselves, and I wasn’t able to really connect each character with the details that came with them because I was too busy trying to keep their nationalities straight.
In the writing, I was a little put-off by the inconsistencies in the language and wording of things. Sometimes it seemed very old-fashioned and fantastical, but then there would be lines or phrases thrown in that felt very modern, and it was a little awkward. But I loved the conlang Wangler created for the world, and it was super cool to see that woven in throughout the book!
I want to look at some of the characters more specifically, and then I’ll wrap up the review.
Forziel. I was slightly frustrated I couldn’t get a firm grip on how old Forziel was (I got the impression from Rai’s calling him a “young boy” that he was closer to 10 or 11, but most of the writing seemed to indicate he was more of a teenager?), but overall I really enjoyed his character. He was fun, he was loyal, and his relationship with his axex was fun to read. I did feel like his backstory was kind of shoehorned in and more told than shown, and I would have liked to see that played out more and be more nuanced, but that was a short section of the book and was just a minor disappointment.
Rai. As with most characters, I didn’t have any strong feelings toward Rai, either good or bad. There were a couple points where I felt like she was overly remorseless, but I do understand where she was coming from and why she would have thought that way, and they were really brief. I loved her relationship with Savi, and it was really cool to see a couple tackling a mission together and supporting each other the whole way, and I really enjoyed that aspect of the book.
Speaking of Savi… He’s another character I really enjoyed. He was sweet and supportive and diplomatic, and it was really cool to see how he and Rai balanced each other and used their skills to complement each other through their mission. And I appreciated that he was firm in his faith, but also had doubts, especially when it came to difficult life events.
Nhardah was an awesome character. I found him especially interesting in the first quarter, when he was still a bit of a mystery and a little bit of a cryptic mentor sort, but I still enjoyed following and reading about him in the rest of the book and enjoyed his mentor-student relationship with the rest of the group.
Overall, I was able to enjoy this book even though it wasn’t what I expected, and I’m curious what I would think of it if I reread it now that I know what to expect. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of character-driven Christian fantasy and strong relationship dynamics.