A once-strong kingdom is torn by power struggles in this one-volume epic.
In several senses, the city of Lartha, capital of the Kingdom of Quandis, is founded on the Four, four ancient sorcerers-turned-gods. Quandis’ rulers claim to be descended from the Four, and the most senior priests of the Temple of Four, known as the High Order, are said to perform magic by drawing on the power of the Four, who are allegedly buried beneath the Temple. The threat to that foundation begins when Queen Lysandra unlawfully attempts to gain control over magic herself but is defeated by her drug addiction and inability to master the discipline that magic requires. Her ruthlessly ambitious middle child, Princess Phela, had initially planned to seize the throne and rule through the information she’s gathered by creeping through the palace’s hidden passages. But now her plots have a wider scope: She wants to master magic for herself and make her rule a divine one. As Quandis shudders underneath her tyranny and the priesthood suffers a schism, a few gather to oppose the new queen: Demos, an unfairly disgraced and enslaved baron’s son; Blane, a young man of the Bajuman, the despised slave caste, who joined the priesthood to seek his own access to magic; his disguised sister, Adm. Daria Hallarte; and Phela’s underestimated younger sister, Princess Myrinne. In a genre overcrowded by ever expanding series, this book demonstrates that there is plenty of room for action and intrigue in a stand-alone. There are some fairly graphic and brutal mutilations and deaths, but that darkness is balanced against sympathetic, and in some cases even pure-hearted, characters. The worldbuilding is fairly solid even if it would’ve been nice to understand more about how the priests wielded magic without it carving out their insides.
A nicely self-contained and kinetic excursion into political fantasy.