I was beguiled by the first book in this excellent series, The Flood Dragon’s Sacrifice, which I thoroughly enjoyed last year. In any other year, it would have made my list for Outstanding Reads as it missed the cut by the merest whisker – but the standard of books I read last year was extraordinarily high. Would I enjoy Emperor of the Fireflies as much?
Kai and Masao, once enemies, are now condemned to the sea by the Tide Dragons Sacrifice. If Hotaru, the new emperor, is unable to summon the Tide Dragons of Ebb and Flood at the Autumn Moon Festival, he will forfeit the right to rule Cipangu. The two Sacrifices face a desperate race against time to free themselves from this ancient curse before Hotaru binds them with forbidden magic to obey his will – forever.
No, I didn’t like this offering as much – I loved it a whole lot more. Now I’m thoroughly acquainted with the cast of characters and the Japanese culture, it took no time at all to slide back into this world, where the stakes are higher than ever. Hotaru and his new bride are busy accustoming themselves to their new roles. Kai and Masao, harnessed to the tides, find themselves steadily losing their mortality as they seek some way to break free of the curse. While the feisty little kitsune struggles to save the sacred mountain from the depredations of a ravening fire dragon.
In less skilled hands this multi-viewpoint epic fantasy could have easily turned into a muddled mess, but Ash’s clear, unfussy style delivered the story with such vivid clarity, I could easily visualise the imperial court and the daily power struggles unfolding between the rival clans and factions, in addition to the magnificent tide dragons as they transformed from the victims of the ancient curse. This was one of those delightful reads where I was caught between turning the pages wanting to know what would happen next, yet not wanting this one to end. It was with a real sense of loss as I finally came to the end of this marvellous story which was brought to a fitting, bittersweet close.
If you enjoy epic fantasy and would welcome something different from the usual medieval era, then I recommend you track down this excellent duology which deserves to be far better known. The added bonus is that the Kindle edition for both books represents excellent value for money.