Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
It’s been a while since I’ve read fantasy, and this book definitely lives up to the genre. The universe created is a little bit middle east, a little bit steampunk, a little bit of magic in a world just entering an industrial age. The cast includes a spoiled but genius aristocrat, his eccentric brother who sees things not of this world, a reclusive and secretive prince and his insane mother, and the man who calls himself brother to the prince. It’s long (as a fantasy book should be), and this is the first in a series, but it does end with closure of the initial story arc, and no cliffhanger (thank God, because those drive me crazy!)
The protagonist of the story, Takhi, starts out as an arrogant, selfish, entitled jerk. He’s the son of the ambassador, wealthy, aristocratic, given all the things wealthy men can give to their children. The only thing he wants, though, is to be a famous architect. His country is peaceful and meditative, and has been essentially sealed off from the largest and most modern country, Vatalokit, and that is the only place Takhi feels his genius will be appreciated. So he runs away, convinced that the only reason he is not already renowned as the greatest architect is because his country is backwards and resists innovation. Although I knew that he was going to be humbled and come out a better man – because that’s how fantasy works and this book follows the formula – I have to admit the process took so long I almost gave up on him. Truthfully, that’s probably more realistic, but I kept getting angry at him until the end of the book for being so conceited and self-absorbed, and because it led him into quite a few TSTL (too stupid to live) situations.
Takhi was recruited to serve as architect for the prince of Vatalokit, to convert his castle into a weapon. The castle itself is almost like another character – it is made of obsidian, dark, brooding, and strangely alive (Howl’s Moving Castle kept coming to my mind, but really it is nothing like that!). People who stay in it too long tend to go a little crazy. At the castle, Takhi met Rye – a man the prince rescued from the slums and who is now the closest thing the prince has to family. Takhi didn’t know why the prince wanted such a weapon, and didn’t believe the flimsy reasons the prince gave, but he thought only of making a name for himself, and was going to do that however he could.
The entire book was really well written, steadily paced with a natural plot evolution. I got irritated at Takhi many times and wanted to skip past the consequences of his stupidity, but it was worth it in the end to hang in there. The romance aspect of the story is almost peripheral, with only hints of interest from Rye and Takhi, and they are not together until the very end of the book. There was more written interaction between Takhi and his twin brother Sorjian, who actually became my favorite character. The reveal of the secrets of the castle, and the prince’s plotting, was abrupt and the only really jarring exception to the plot progression, and left several threads hanging, but I think those will be taken up in the next books in the series, and I’m looking forward to reading them!
Cover art by the author is typical of a fantasy book, pretty, and probably why I kept picturing Howl’s Moving Castle every time I thought of it….
ebook, 230 pages
Expected publication: March 27th 2018 by Dreamspinner Press