This one kept coming up on other book blogging sites – that it was a beast of a book… that it was a single-book epic fantasy adventure featuring dragons and pirates… that it was beautifully written… So I scooped it up to lighten those boring household chores I hate doing. I can’t deny the pull of that cover, either.
BLURB: A world divided. A queendom without an heir. An ancient enemy awakens.
The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction – but assassins are getting closer to her door. Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.
Across the dark sea, Tané has trained to be a dragonrider since she was a child, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel. Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.
REVIEW: This is a hugely ambitious book and hats off to Shannon for even attempting it. In many ways, it follows many of the classic tropes within epic fantasy – political fragility at a time of increasing threat… historical accretion that messes with the people and objects destined to help deal with said threat… a handful of chosen heroes whose lives have been given over to step up and deal with this threat, when it finally emerges… So good, so familiar. But Shannon nicely shakes it up – I particularly enjoyed the storyline around Queen Sabran, which was the most successful narrative throughout the book, both in terms of coherence and pacing. I also liked how Shannon plays with reader expectations, and then upends them. The romance was particularly well developed, with a convincing depth of emotion – yet there were still edges as two powerful women specifically raised to fulfil entirely different roles grappled to try and come to terms with their responsibilities without also sacrificing their personal happiness. But I was also very relieved to see that Shannon didn’t push the facile trope that true lurve solves everything – the storyline of one of the main characters is a vivid demonstration of what happens when someone loves too hard and cannot let go.
The characterisation was the main strength of this wide-ranging story and certainly held me, when the pacing – the weakest aspect – either flagged, suddenly dropping away, or speeded up and rushed through a scene which had been given a big build-up. My other irritation is that Shannon clearly felt, or was told, some of her major supporting cast, should die. She also clearly hated doing it. This manifested itself in these deaths either occurring off-stage, or being glossed over. And while their nearest and dearest did mourn their going, there wasn’t really a sufficient sense of loss, which given how effective Shannon’s writing is in depicting her main characters’ emotions, I found rather frustrating.
However, neither of these niggles are dealbreakers. Nor is the fact that while Liyah Summers’ narration very ably depicted the wide cast of characters with an impressive range of different voices – she also misprounced the word bow throughout, along with one or two odd examples that momentarily yanked me out of the story. Overall, I loved the world and the complex, nuanced story Shannon laid out for me and would recommend it to any fan of epic fantasy, who appreciates reading the whole story in one large volume, rather than having it broken up into instalments spanning years.