I had seen this one on Netgalley and then was invited to review it – and accepted. I liked the premise and assumed he’d be a solidly good writer, after all, he’s married to the great Emma Newman…
The demons… In the endless forests of the Wild, humanity scratches a living by the side of the great Godroads, paths of crystal that provide safe passage and hold back the infernal tide. Creatures lurk within the trees, watching, and plucking those who stray too far from safety.
The Deathless… In crystal castles held aloft on magical currents, seven timeless royal families reign, protecting humanity from the spread of the Wild and its demons. Born and reborn into flawless bodies, the Deathless are as immortal as the precious stones from which they take their names. For generations a fragile balance has held.
And the damned… House Sapphire, one of the ancient Deathless families, is riven by suspicion and madness. Whole villages are disappearing as the hunting expeditions holding the Wild at bay begin to fail.
Newman tips us right in the middle of the action – to the extent that at one point, I flipped back to ensure I was reading the first book in the series. But that’s okay – seeing as one of my hobbies is crashing midway into series, this approach works for me. I certainly prefer it to those stories that take forever to wind up into anything approximating an adventure. The world is overrun with demonic creatures who attack humanity – even the vegetation in the wild forests exact a price to keep them from attacking those desperate enough to seek refuge within such a lethal landscape. What stops the world from being completely overrun are the immortals who live in floating castles powered by crystalline power and the godroads, also crystal-enhanced which attacks and repels all demon-touched flora and fauna.
There are seven main dynasties who maintain their borders and keep all within them safe by their regular hunting expeditions. Until one House doesn’t and a village goes under… The House Sapphire is a mess after one of its most important representatives is accused of consorting with The Wild and is disgraced, before being driven out to fend for herself. Even more devastatingly, the vessel that houses her immortal soul is broken, so that once her current life ends – that’s it – she won’t be reborn into a young, healthy body, again.
The worldbuilding is fabulous – Newman manages to evoke a real sense of tension and menace once outside the castle walls, while providing an insight into what it’s like to live within the castle. I also liked the progression of the story and the pacing, which is really well-handled. The only problem I had was that while there were multiple viewpoints – only one of those characters really appealed, and that was Lady Pari, who is brave and sufficiently wilful to break the rules so she can be with her lover.
I appreciate the characters are not all good or bad – but most of the scions of the crystal families seem to be selfish and vengeful. They certainly seem to have forgotten that their primary vocation is to keep the wild safe for the mortals not fortunate enough to live in a floating castle. But as the adventure unspools, people are pushed to their limits outside their comfort zones and we get to see what they are made of.
I became increasingly absorbed in the story as it wore on and by the end, I was thoroughly engrossed – and I’m keen to read the next slice of the adventure. Because, as things stand – I have no idea where Newman will next take it. While I obtained an arc of The Deathless from the author via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. Recommended for fans of well written, fantasy with a strong, unusual world.