Hundreds of years ago, the Vaerli ruled the world until the Casiah removed their supernatural gifts and rose to power. Now the Vaerli are shunned and persecuted – all except for the feared Talyn, who works for the Casiah as his assassin. Talyn was once proud, but her centuries of service have made her bitter and tortured. Talyn’s brother Byre has spent those centuries mostly just trying to stay alive, but has somehow stumbled his way into a destiny of his own – one that could bring his people’s strength back.
Meanwhile, Finnbarr the Fox, a tale-spinner, has had enough of the Casiah’s despotism, and spontaneously decides to cause political unrest by spreading the tale of his mistreatment of the Vaerli. He hatches a plan to publicly shame the Casiah in his palace – and this may or may not have anything to do with his attraction to Talyn, who resides there.
There were too many viewpoint characters in this book. In addition to the aforementioned three, there was Pelanor the Blood Witch, Nyree the Vaerli Seer, Finn’s three friends, Kelanim, the Casiah’s consort… I can’t actually remember which of these were viewpoint characters and which of them just appeared a lot, and that’s not really ideal. There were also too many plotlines going on for a 275 page book – the Casiah’s mystery, Talyn’s hunts, Byre’s destiny, Pelanor’s allegiance, Byre and Talyn’s family story, Kelanim’s hatred of Talyn (not sure why that was even necessary?), the rebellion, the history of the world, the various races… I could go on. The book should’ve either been twice the size or some plotlines should’ve been moved to the next book.
The characters weren’t that compelling either. Most of the characters have just enough background to make them lose their mystery, but not enough to make you identify with them and understand their actions – it’s pretty frustrating. For instance, the big reveal concerning Finn was uninteresting to me because I didn’t actually know enough about Finn to find it surprising. My favourite character was probably Byre, because he fits the old but good Clueless Fantasy Hero With a Destiny trope.
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
The central romance also didn’t really feel convincing. I think part of it was because of how it was framed and paced – my first impression was that Finn was just intrigued by Talyn because she was a Vaerli and he didn’t actually know her, but it’s revealed towards the end that they actually had a romance and Talyn chose to forget it. I really didn’t get that from the beginning, and if there was foreshadowing, I missed it. I know Finn kept alluding to a previous meeting, but he made it sound like he offended her in some way and didn’t want her to remember.
I don’t want to make it sound like I didn’t enjoy the book – I did! I loved the Chaoslands, the constantly shifting landscape that occupies the land that the Casiah doesn’t directly exert influence over. The world is pretty intriguing – what is the White Void, how exactly did the Harrowing take place, and who exactly is the Casiah? What are the other races that make up the world, and how did they get affected by the Casiah’s rule?
I’ll definitely keep reading the series (the cliffhanger ending doesn’t hurt!), but I hope that it gets it a bit more focused in the next installment.
- “The Half-Made World” by Felix Gilman
- “Cyberabad Days” by Ian McDonald