This debut fantasy depicts war among Mongols, Europeans, supernatural creatures, and more in the 13th century.
In Valachia, Elias Dorinescu is born shortly after his mother, Celestina, and twin brother die. Father Grigore refuses to baptize him, and Elias becomes an outcast in the settlement of Tirgu Rosu. As a growing boy, he learns that he can witness the trauma of strangers in visions. This leads his blacksmith father, Dorin, to rescue Father Mircea, a monk, from the forest. Grateful, Father Mircea agrees to teach Elias the Bible, as nobody else will. Elias also learns of the “apa sambetei,” which existed as an endless void before the world’s creation, from his father’s friend Vlaicu. Now an adult, Elias is married to his lovely neighbor Persephone. Though Tirgu Rosu is calm, distant lands like Kiev are under siege by Batu Khan and his Mongolian horde. Elsewhere, a holy man named Volos prepares a sacred city known as Kotanos to stand against a supernatural threat. As creatures that drink blood enter the battlefield, deeper human alliances take hold. Elias, conscripted to fight the Mongols, is soon on a collision course with Natia Nenkvashani, a woman of the Svan tribe who can travel in her dreams. Siegel’s sprawling medieval fantasy is a gift to patient readers who love finely threaded plots suffused with history. Elias and his childhood provide the entry point into an era in which Christianity was ascendant and the Middle East had become a bastion of Western science. Inhuman beings seed the narrative early on, as Elias envisions a creature with a mouth that’s “a triangular protrusion, tapered somewhat to a tip, where three moist, fleshy lips met at the center; quivering, they emitted a series of bizarre clicks and hisses.” The story’s heart lies in the bonding of characters from various cultures and walks of life, including Cheren, a soldier fighting against his will for the Mongols; and Abotur Alexeyevich, a survivor of Kiev’s destruction. The author uses famous quotes perhaps too liberally (“What you think and what you do is who you become”—Heraclitus), telegraphing lessons embedded in each chapter. A post-glossary scene hints at a daring sequel.
A detailed, cosmically inclined fantasy saga for history buffs.