ARC provided by Skyhorse Publishing in exchange for an honest review.
I do want to start this review by saying that this is a grimdark fantasy novel, which means that it has much darker and more brutal tones than regular fantasy. Many of the characters are morally grey, and do very ruthless, savage, and inhumane things. I personally do enjoy this type of fantasy, but I know this subgenre isn’t for everyone. This all being said, there are a lot of trigger warnings for brutal violence, rape, attempted rape, graphic torture, genital mutilation, religious sacrifice and other things along/in those veins.
“The gods demanded victory.”
The basic premise of this book is that in the world of Gilgoras the people either worship Dancer, the Goddesses of Light, and her Fox God son or the Red Gods who are the Dark Lady and the God of Blood. The Mireces people choose to worship the Red Gods, but they pay the price by being exiled to the cold and miserable places of Gilgoras, while the people that follow Dancer and her Fox God son get to thrive in Rilpor.
“Rilpor will belong to Blood again and, after it has fallen, all the world will know my wrath.”
The Mireces people not only worship the Red Gods, but they make incredible sacrifices to them, too. I’m talking excruciating pain until death type torture sacrifices. Yet, they are finally strong enough, and have enough people following their Gods’ path, to try to take over Rilpor once and for all so they no longer have to live in the shadows.
Meanwhile, there is a man who is part of the civilian watch of Rilpor who is directly connected to the world of the Gods. They speak to him, among other agonizing things, but he is normally able to let his people know before something catastrophic happens. Then he rescues an escaping Mireces who he believes is the key to something much bigger. And he’s right.
Add in a sick king, mourning the loss of his wife, a commander trying desperately to protect that king, while also trying to uncover what is true, a general, who doesn’t know what to believe but wants to do what’s right, another newly appointed king who has a very questionable adviser, a very lucky or cursed man, depending on how you look at it, with two different colored eyes, and a couple of Gods that want to live and rule among humans. Yeah, this is a pretty epic story with a lot going on.
This story is told in many different points of view, but it is blended seamlessly and never feels like it’s too much or over the top. It’s just an amazingly well crafted dark tale, filled with twists and turns that made me unable to put this book down. There are betrayals and backstabbing, dark rituals and salvations, friendships and loves, this book has everything I want in my fantasy.
This book has some amazingly strong female characters. A girl coping with her abuse and PTSD to become the fighter she’s always wanted to be. The best officer Rilpor has ever seen, while constantly having to put up with misogynistic and sexist things. The most badass old woman, who never loses sight of her God or her faith, ever. Hell, even a villain that doesn’t want to be a sidekick to a male and his agenda anymore. This story has the representation I want to see as a woman who reads and loves fantasy. Anna Stephens is Queen, end of story.
“Then fuck you all, she thought, I’ll save myself.”
And speaking of representation, Crys like instantly became one of my all time favorite characters. He honestly might be my favorite character in all of 2017. I do not believe sexuality is ever a spoiler, but if you feel differently, do not read the rest of this paragraph. I love how we get to see Crys explore, deal, and accept his feelings for men. It was such an unexpected joy in this very dark world. The scenes where Crys accepted his self, and who he truly was, warmed my heart to no end and were some of my favorite moments in this entire book. Plus, you guys know I’m always here for the bi/gay representation, always, and Crys’ was expertly done.
And the friendship in this book is truly spectacular, too. I loved seeing the growth of some of these friendships, but I loved seeing the forgiveness and acceptance even more. Friendships are never perfect, and sometimes they start out really rocky, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth it.
I also loved the lesson of starting over, and how you are never the mistakes you have made it your past. And you certainly are never the terrible things that were forced upon you. Seeing the escaped Mireces, Rillirin, healing from her abuse (sexually, physically, and mentally) and the PTSD caused by them, was beautifully done and I was so happy it was added into this book. And then seeing her be able to love and accept love again was nothing short of magic to read. Discussions like this, especially in fantasy, are so needed and I completely applaud Anna Stephens for thoughtfully and respectively adding them in her already phenomenal story.
“You weren’t a whore; you were a victim”
My biggest, and maybe only, complaint is that I went into this believing it would be a standalone, which it is totally not. In fact, I think this beautiful book spent most of its time setting up for the events that are going to take place in the next installment. Most the time, when you receive a physical ARC, you will get a sell sheet that will say something along the lines of “epic new first book in a series” or something along those lines, but my sell sheet totally didn’t say anything like that, and neither does the description, so I went in ignorantly believing this would be a stand alone. Obviously this is not the fault of the author or this books what so ever, in fact after reading, I saw on Anna Stephen’s author bio it says it’s a trilogy releasing a book a year. So, this is totally and probably my fault for just not doing my research and realizing that it was the first book in a new series, but regardless I was a little disappointed, especially because of the massive cliffhanger(s) of an ending. Yet, now I realize that I get more books in this world and with these characters, so maybe it’s not as much as a disappointment as I originally thought. But I do think it is important to note, especially since Goodreads also doesn’t have this listed as the first book in a series yet. But I do need to get my hands on the next book, like, yesterday. Seriously, who do I need to sacrifice?
Please give this a try upon release on June 20th 2017. I really believe it is something special and something so worth reading if you’re a fantasy lover. I loved this book wholeheartedly. I instantly loved the premise, I quickly fell in love with the world, and eventually fell in love with most of the characters. The discussions are important, the representation was amazing, and the story is addicting as well! I am so impressed with this debut novel and author, and I cannot wait to get my hands on book two.
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.