Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Differences must be put aside when vengeance becomes all-consuming.
Anan, a spellweaver of the Talac people, returns from a hunting trip to find his village decimated, his mate dead, and everyone else captured by Varas slavers. The sole survivor is Terja, a young man without the velvet that covers most Talac, marking him as a spellspinner. Since Talac magic requires both a weaver and a spinner, Anan and Terja must move beyond their ingrained mistrust. All that remains is revenge and a desperate plan to rescue their tribesmen before they are sold to Varas pleasure houses. A goal Anan and Terja are willing to die for.
With the blessing of the Talac gods, they discover new and surprising ways to complement each other’s power. But as they race through terrain full of enemies and dangerous creatures to reach their people before they pass into Varas lands, they must take drastic steps to face the overwhelming odds against them. Understanding their connection might be their only hope.
What a wonderful debut novel from Jon Keys! The story was imaginative, heartbreaking, layered and beautifully developed. What a high mark to hit with your first book. But first a sentence or two about the power of a book cover. You see, it was that amazing Paul Richmond cover that caught my eye and made me want to read the blurb. Those eyes combined with the presence of skin marks and a web? Mysterious and compelling. I had to know more. What I found matched that powerful cover in every way.
Obsidian Sun by Jon Keys is a story told from multiple points of view (one of the only issues I have with the story). We start with Anan, a spellweaver of the Talac people coming home from a hunt to carnage. Anan’s village has been raided by the Varas people, the dwellings burned, the people horribly murdered except for those younger members taken for the slavery trade and for their velvet skin. Yes furred skin. The Talac, a semi-nomadic tribe, is a clan of furred individuals, with the exception of the hairless spellspinners. That marked velvet covering of their bodes makes them prized not only as sex slaves (it seems the Varas are addicted to sex with them) but they are skinned as well, various colors like golden velvet prized above all others. These facts reveal themselves slowly as Anan goes about the gruesome and heartbreaking business of checking the bodies and readying himself for the “release ritual”. But he’s not the only one left alive, there is one more person hidden away . Terja, a young spellbinder. Together they do what they know is required to release the souls of the dead and swear vengeance on the Varas traders.
Keys’ descriptions of Anan and Terja’s final sweep of their village and the scenes that follow are haunting, poignant, carrying a deep emotional impact that will stay with the reader. Yes, it had me in tears. It also serves to bring us immediately into this amazing world and the cultures of the people that live there.
There are at least two distinct cultures at war here…that we know of. But the one we immersed in completely, at first, is that of the Talac people. The Talac have several strata of tribes that make up the whole, that includes the Kuri tribes that follow the kuri animals much like some western American Indian tribes did the buffalo. The author weaves many Native American tools and beliefs here into his story. In one scene, Anan and Terja cook a stew using the Eastern Woodland Indian method of putting a hot rock inside the stew to cook from within inside of sitting a pot on the fire, handy when using bark containers inside of pottery. Bark is lightweight and easy to transport, not so much a heavy clay pot, something very important if you are a nomadic tribe. The use of native resources by Anan and Terja also echo the ways indigenous peoples all over the world use the land and animals around them. Its an element that flows through this story and it gives their universe both a familiar yet alien feel to it. This layering gives Obsidian Sun a realistic aspect to it that helps connect us to it and the characters.
That also brings us to spiders. I love spiders, all of them. Here the similarities also arise between spiders and the Talac. You can divide spiders into 2 types of carapace types. One is furred, some gorgeously so (like tarantulas and jumping spiders, which have all the colors of the rainbow and more patterns than you can imagine). Other’s have a hairless carapace that shines as though its been shellacked. Most orb weavers are of this type. That mimics the two skin types of the Talac. But it goes further with the Talac gods, and the Twined Beings, First Weaver and First Spinner, avatars to the Gods. They appear as humongous spiders. Spiders and weaving form the weft and warp of this story. From the religious rituals and cultures myths Jon Keys creates and then uses throughout his story to the weapons and fighting styles, Keys’ imagination and ability to translate those ideas into emotionally laden, action packed scenes and storylines is stunning. So is his love of and ability to use natural history to enliven and deepen his plot and characters. Nothing is left to chance, even the spider silk is used much like the silk worms are here, right down to the technique required. Really, its just amazing how well Keys meshes known natural history with his own creations.
There is a growing romance between Anan and Terja, brought on by need and circumstances that becomes something deeper and spiritual (and incredibly sexy). Their hunt for vengeance is suspenseful, and heart stopping, especially when they are in peril.
But there are other characters involved and that brings me to my only issue here. There is far too many points of view. Different characters , some of the kidnapped Kuri, others of slaves in residence, voice their perspectives of the action and their captivity. This format of multiple povs only serves to take the momentum away from the developing relationship between Terja and Anan and cuts the reader off from the anticipation and suspense of the ongoing hunts for the traders and the slaves. I understand why Jon Keys wanted us to see the “captives” side but there are other ways of establishing the terror they are undergoing while giving us the information he wanted to impart about the Varas people. Too many voices muddy the narrative and that happened here.
Multiple perspectives aside, this is a powerful, layered saga, one I hope will continue. The ending is a HFN, leaving so many options for a sequel to go forward. I certainly hope that Jon Keys is already hard at work to give us one.
Obsidian Sun (a solstice event much like our solar eclipse) is a must read novel by Jon Keys! If you love fantasy, mythology, natural history and imaginative world building combined with sex, love and adventure, then this is a story for you. I can’t wait to see what Jon Keys has in store for us next, hopefully a sequel! Fingers crossed.
Cover art by Paul Richmond. One of my favorite covers of the month, perhaps even the year. This cover clearly demonstrates the power of a cover to entice you into reading a story by a picture alone. Perfection.