Good Idea: Taking advantage of a free book deal and downloading a book that has received good ratings from all of your friends.
Bad Idea: Not reading the book for over a year because you are scared the “rock climbing elements” will overshadow everything else in the book.
I can’t believe I let this sit on my Kindle without reading it for so long. I truly did put it off because all the talk was about how the author is a rock climber and put it into her book; my brain went meh and I skipped it repeatedly. My loss.
Yes, the book does contain some rock climbing elements. Protagonist Dev is an outrider who scouts the terrain for trade caravans with climbing being one of the many duties. Dev is also making a bit of a side profit by smuggling magical items into a city with very strict controls on magic. The book starts with almost no bull****; Dev going to his usual contact and learning that this time he is being asked to smuggle a person across the border. With reasons of his own to take the cash he reluctantly agrees, taking on Kiran as an “assistant” to provide cover on the next run.
Bouncing back and forth between the point of view of both Dev and Kiran (with Dev’s chapters being in the first person) the author artfully makes us care about both characters; even when their goals may not be aligned. Strong engaging characters may have been my favorite thing of many this story. Not only do we have Dev and Kiran, both good people hiding something; but several of the support characters had almost as much life as the two protagonists. Villains were pure evil but for some reason this was a story where that didn’t bother me as much. Usually I like my villains to have a human element, but complete monster worked in this environment surprisingly well.
Pacing was a huge point in this story’s favor. A good amount of the background info was told within the journey rather than funneled down our throat. There was plenty of action, with magic that was enough of a threat to matter. By switching PoV’s regularly I never got bored with one character, and by keeping it at two I never god mad when a switch happened; I knew I would see him again soon. I have learned over time that I almost always prefer my fantasy in shorter chunks; at about 350 pages this book was perfect for what I needed.
“World building” doesn’t really occur here, but there is some very good “small area building.” Only hints of a larger world are shown, this book deals with two cities and the passage between them. But it is so full of life! One city thrives on magic, living in an almost magical anarchy where mages of different types can do anything they want. The other is almost Orwellian in their attempt to keep people safe from the magic; using the very magic they are suppressing to enforce the rules. Charms are sold for different uses, some quite powerful. Different mages use different power bases, and if some of the “blood mage” power felt like mana in a video game to me it is probably proof that I have played too many damn video games.
My only real complaint comes the warded city of Alathia, it of magical suppression. The city is protected by spells that will alert the guard if the wrong types of magic are used, while ignoring the more benign. In theory. In reality it felt like one of the most blatant author’s conveniences I have ever read, a nice security blanket that let the author do just about anything with it. We see all kinds of magic take place within it without setting off the alarms, but also see the guards called in for something they didn’t come for the first time we saw it. I would have liked some more consistency on that front, but maybe it is addressed in later books as a misconception (or deliberate misleading). In any case, it didn’t distract much from the reading.
Oh yes, I even liked the areas of the book that dealt with mountain climbing.