This epic fantasy looked a bit different, so I requested it.
The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests. Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons. This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.
This is one of those lush, richly written fantasy tales that clearly has its roots in the Eastern tradition. Set in a large sprawling land that is a cross between Mongolia and Japan, it is the story of two girls born of two close friends. One is a Qorin ruler, leader of nomadic horse tribes, while the other is sister-in-law to the paranoid emperor. I was a bit concerned about the way the animosity between the Oorin and Hokkarans were depicted – would anyone call themselves flat-faced? While I enjoyed the fact this wasn’t a fantasy set in medieval/early modern Europe, I did wonder if it didn’t borrow rather too heavily from other historical conflicts.
These two girls, born close together, first meet as small children and then throughout their young lives, quickly forming a strong bond. This novel is actually a letter from one of the girls, written to the other and charting their adventures together and what they have done. It is a time-honoured structure and mostly successful – although I do think the pacing could have been improved, if only we had hints throughout of just what the stakes were, before they were fully revealed.
However, that grizzle doesn’t detract from the richness of the worldbuilding and the punchy characterisation of these powerful girls. While it is a coming-of-age romance, because of the manner in which their friendship turns into something far deeper and more passionate, it is certainly different. I thought the love between them was tender and convincing, though personally I could have done with less explicit sex scenes.
I liked the fact that though there is a great deal of powerful magic sloshing around, when people get hurt, there is a price to pay. This is a hefty book at 500+ pages, but especially towards the end, the pace really picked up and the story concluded with a nicely climactic ending.