This is the first book in a fantasy trilogy that fans of Kate Elliott and Trudi Canavan shouldn’t miss.
Stolen from her people as a child and raised as a citizen of the Tyranian Empire, Ligea Gayed is the obvious choice to despatch to her homeland, occupied Kardiastan, with orders to root out a rebel conspiracy. At first, she devotes herself to her new assignment with zeal. Adopted daughter of the Empire’s greatest general, and possessing a fearsome reputation within the ruthless Imperial spy network known as the Brotherhood, Ligea views herself as a loyal servant of Tyrans. But blood will out, and with each day she spends among her parents’ people, her disciplined self-image crumbles a little. And there are secrets in Kardiastan, secrets that will inevitably force Ligea to choose between her upbringing and her birthright.
Yeah, I know… it does sound rather familiar – but Larke’s fine writing and takes the classic heroine-with-a-hidden-but-special-past scenario and gives it a fresh immediacy in her outstanding character Ligea. I’m a sucker for a spiky, three-dimensional protagonist with plenty of flaws – and Ligea has plenty of them as she describes her privileged life as a high ranking member of the feared Brotherhood. The first person narrative grabbed me and drew me into the story, which zips along at an impressive pace while giving a strong sense of first Tyran society and then the constrasting situation in Kardiastan. The world building is deftly done, without any tedious info dumping, as we follow Ligea’s journey through two different worlds. While I saw some of the plotpoints coming, there are plenty of unexpected twists that kept me turning the pages as the narrative tension continues ramping up right to the conclusion. I was pleased to note that while there are a number of dangling plotlines waiting to be tied up in the two subsequent books, the storyline in this first instalment was brought to an entirely satisfactory ending. It always peeves me to get all the way to the end of a novel in a multi-book series and find that I have to wait till the next volume before a main plot point is resolved.
The flashes of humour – not particularly prevalent in this particular sub-genre – were also enjoyable as Brand, Ligea’s stroppy slave, stomps along in her wake giving plenty of unwanted advice. Themes running through this book won’t come as a shock to high fantasy fans – the tension between might and right; how to handle great power; the importance of free will.
Any niggles? Well, I do have a problem with the name of Tyr – and its inhabitants, the Tyrans. While obviously based upon Roman society, with slavery as the cornerstone of its society, I do think that Larke should have trusted her readers a bit more to recognise the faultlines in such a society without leading us by the nose in using such a blatantly unsubtle name. It slightly irked me throughout the book that all Tyrans needed was the addition of one letter to turn their name into tyrants… It’s the sort of device I’d expect from someone a lot less gifted and able than Larke. But other than that, I found the book a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read and have already started on the sequel, The Shadow of Tyr.