Rating: 4.75 stars
Fen Jacen-rei is a Ghost, an Untouchable, his power revealed at birth and his fate sealed by the Universe and the gods Raven and Wolf. One half of twin brothers born to a Full Blooded Jin mother, his father sold him to a mage who accompanied the birth-wife the night he and his brother Joori were born. Most twins, you see, were killed at birth or spirited away to an unspeakable end, But that night the Stranger intervened, promising to keep them hidden, saving them for a price. The price? That upon the boy’s coming into his powers, the Stranger would return and take him away.
Fen Jacen-rei was normal until he matured and then the Voices came to him, all the voices of the Ancestors, the spirits of the dead mages swirling through his brain, threatening to overwhelm him, to break his sanity as they have done for all the other poor Untouchables who now wander mad, babbling and cursed across their occupied land. In the house of Asai the Mage,Fen Jacen-rei fights those same voices, trying to maintain his sanity through cutting as he trains as an assassin for the one who bought him. A Mage who hides him until he is ready to be used as a weapon.
But the Gods have other plans for the Ghost and the Ghost assassin is recruited by his competitors. This time by Kamen Malick and his small band of outlaws and assassins who were told to grab the Ghost and bring him into the fold, no matter the means, by another Magician with ties to the Wolf God. It seems that Fen Jacen-rei is a Catalyst, one who changes the balance of power. But for whose side? For Asai and the Raven? Or Malick and the Wolf? As mysteries and layers of magical subterfuge swirls around him, Fen Jacen-rei only knows that he must protect the ones he loves and seek vengeance upon the person who betrayed them all. He will need help in his quest but who to trust when all seem cloaked in smoke and all the paths are mazes.
Hooked. I am totally hooked by the story and the world building of Carole Cummings. I have to admit I was a little uncertain when I opened the book to find a glossary list of terms, gods, and history. When I have to get through pages of info dump before I can get to the first chapter, well let’s just say that it never works out well. It’s my opinion that the author should be able to weave that information into the story without forcing the reader to be attached to a reference guide at all times. Knowing that, it won’t surprise you that I blithely disregard said pages and jump right into the story and see what comes. And what normally comes my way is an overpopulated, dense narrative so consumed by its own world building that plot and characterization are quickly forgotten. Not here. That did not happen here to my delight and astonishment. I could pick up the history and world building bit by bit and compile a picture of the world Fen Jacen-rei inhabits without referring back to an encyclopedia, just as I should.
Wolf’s Own is a series of which Ghost is book 1. Carole Cummings does her job and then some as an author in delivering to the reader a new universe in which to play in. We have two races and their pantheon of Gods and godlings. One race held the magic albeit a little too carelessly, the other benefited until a war broke out, the balance was broken and the Gods fell silent. One race, the Jin have had their lands taken away, their families destroyed, the children killed and their magic drained by the Adan for unspeakable purposes. Not all the Adan are aware of what is happening within their society, how would they feel if they knew what horrors were being perpetuated upon the fallen? Layer by layer, Cummings builds a world rich in religious traditions and Gods, of political plots and empires, of magic and its consequences. And we get all this while never forgetting that there are people caught in the middle, whose lives have been torn asunder, loved ones killed or kidnapped, or driven mad by forces out of their control. Powerful themes abound through this book like the winds of a storm, full of thunder, and lightning and drenching rain that covers everything in its path.
Carole Cummings is as careful with her characterizations as she is with the world building. These beings breath, cry and break before our eyes. They accept that life is cruel and try to find ways to adapt and survive on a daily basis. Cummings brings us beings at every level of society, from prostitutes to Mages and makes them all so very real. I like that she also keeps us guessing as the each beings real nature, as every character seems to be wearing a mask of sorts. No one is really who they seem to be. Fen Jacen-rei is such a compelling character that I took him to heart immediately. A child caught up in the war of Gods, he cries out for our sympathy and love from the first time we meet him, the night he was born and listen as his craven father sells him off. The pain of watching him taught his craft and being manipulated by a Mage who uses Fen’s need to be loved is heartbreaking. We are invested in this young man from the outset and are pulled along by the force of our own feelings for him and his story. All the other characters are equally well drawn, from Malick to the sister twin assassins he rescued from blood slavery to the Mage and Asai himself.
My only quibble is that the book stops just before they all set out on a mission. Kill me, just kill me now as I hate cliffhangers. This story is so outstanding that I don’t even mind what is usually a problem for me. But in other ways, my frustration excluded, the end point made perfect sense. Joori, the brother, has power too and the Gods are circling about Jen’s family with a vengeance. That is the perfect place to start the second book in the series, Wolf’s Own #2: Weregild. I cannot wait to start that one. But in the meantime, I am thrilled to find a new addiction. I have a new series that has all the elements to make it one of the best of the year and a new author. Its a great day. So, run out and pick this one up. If you love info dumps, read the glossary. Yes, I know. The author went to a lot of trouble to compile it. But she didn’t need to. So if you are like me, skip it and get right into a tale to remember and characters that won’t let you go. I promise you won’t be sorry.
Gorgeous cover art by the inestimable Anne Cain.