This is a book I picked up by a fellow Grimbold author a long time ago which has spent far too long stuck in my TBR pile – and this week I rediscovered it. So I dusted off the virtual fluff and got stuck in. I’m so glad it did!
“Caenthell will stay buried, and the North will not rise again until I freely offer my sword to a true descendant of the High Kings—or until one takes it from my dying hands!”
With this curse, the Warlock Malessar destroyed Caenthell. The bloodline of the High Kings disappeared and the kingdom faded into dark legend until even stories of the deed lost their power. But now there is an Heir to the North.
Cassia hopes to make her reputation as a storyteller by witnessing a hardened soldier and a heroic princeling defeat Malessar and his foul curse. But neither of her companions are exactly as they appear, and the truth lies deep within stories that have been buried for centuries. As Cassia learns secrets both soldier and warlock have kept hidden since the fall of Caenthell, she discovers she can no longer merely bear witness. Cassia must become part of the story; she must choose a side and join the battle. The North will rise again.
There are so many classic elements to this story – a lost civilisation that has fallen into ruin… evidence of arcane knowledge now gone… some grumpy powerful magic-users… a lantern-jawed warrior with a shiny family tree… If you are an epic fantasy fan these tropes are as cosily familiar as a cup of hot chocolate at bedtime. And then Poore adds his own spin on this epic storyline. Think of the absolute opposite of George R.R. Martin’s approach. There is a single protagonist – and no… it isn’t the shiny warrior – it is the daughter of a drunk storyteller who is constantly on the road.
Somehow – and this is a masterclass on the intelligent use of a protagonist – through this worm’s eye view, we are shown the bones of a lost culture and the way the current world works as young Cassia is given the chance to make her own way as a storyteller. I’ll be honest – epic fantasy isn’t always my go-to genre. I’m rather allergic to a horde of unpleasant main characters scrambling for power or survival, depending on the politics. I’m not a fan of pages of explanation about the world, either. Poore nicely side-steps these pet peeves of mine and unpeels a wonderful, vibrant world, alongside an engrossing storyline that held me throughout as I really cared about young Cassia.
She is a delightful protagonist – wary and neglected after an abusive childhood, she gradually begins to see there are opportunities for her other than just trying to stay out of trouble and survive. And when threats or dangers loom, she is reasonably good at reacting. All of this is written into her story without her coming off as a Mary Sue.
So as the book progressed – much faster than I generally take reading an epic fantasy as the pages pretty much turned themselves with this one – I was gearing up, waiting for the nasty warlock to unleash his world-ending magical mayhem. And Poore changes it all. While I had already figured out some of the reveals, I didn’t see that final twist coming – that came as a real shock. I’m so very glad that I had bought the next book in this series, The High King’s Vengeance, during the last Fantasycon – which I shall be tucking into just as soon as I can. Because I really, really need to know what happens next.