A well-conceived blend of fantasy and sci-fi whose numerous characters and complex back story will keep readers on their toes.
Zandugi, or Zan, has been training at the Monastery in the art of fighting using Liff, a kind of life energy that can be channeled into weapons or used for healing. In this age, Liff is guarded by the Zealots, Bishops, and Teachers, all guardians of the Temple, who tell citizens that the Temple’s strict, brutal religious tenets are the only thing keeping them from descending into another Great War. As the story goes, 7,000 years ago, the Five Nations fought over Liff, eventually devastating the landscape and splintering the Nations. Ever since, the Temple has held a Festival of Choosing, in which citizens are chosen to sacrifice themselves so that their Liff may sustain the religious leaders. Most citizens accept this way of life, along with the harsh punishments for rebellion. But not all are cowed. Like Zan, Rem, an orphan in the city of Grindor, sees through the Temple’s cruelty. But when his excursion outside the orphanage with friends ends in disaster, Rem finds that his taste for the power of Liff is a dangerous addiction. Rebels such as Zan and Rem must learn to harness the power of Liff if they are to save a tyrannized nation from itself. Author Al-Attar constructs a complicated world populated (perhaps overpopulated) with the kinds of brave souls and evil oppressors that readers of fantasy have come to expect, but the narrative tweaks those tropes by introducing ambiguity on both sides. Rem—one of the good guys—battles his dependency: “The voice hissed and groaned in hunger. Find me more Liff! Why have you stopped the harvest?...I can’t! Rem yelled back inside his head, trying to keep his composure so people would not get suspicious.” While readers may need a chart to keep the many characters straight, the driving conceit is strong enough to keep the narrative afloat.
Readers intrigued by moral ambivalence will enjoy this addition to the genre.