In this prequel installment of Markoff’s (The Deadbringer, 2016) fantasy series, a mercenary protects his young nephew, a member of a despised, largely decimated people, from operatives who wish to kill him.
Eutau Vidal made a promise to his sister that he would look after her son, Kira, before she died in labor. Taking care of Kira entails typical child-rearing duties, such as ensuring that he’s well-fed and warm, but also involves concealing Kira’s gray skin—the sign that he’s part of a race called Deadbringers. Kira’s skin rots everything it touches, save for Eutau. In the land of Moenda, the Ascendancy united all the myriad races under one power, while also initiating the Purging against Deadbringers, who, among other things, can bring the dead back to life. Although the South is predominantly free of Deadbringers, Sanctifiers continue to search for any that remain in hiding. Eutau keeps Kira close and helps him overcome his fear of spirits that only he can see and hear. The two encounter an amiable soul, J’kara, and later join her in her home city of Florinia, where a lack of Deadbringers has begotten far-less-cautious Ascendancy members. But Eutau soon craves the freedom he once had in his mercenary days. Markoff’s novella, which takes place 15 years prior to the events of her previous book, is a laudable series forerunner, but also works well as a stand-alone work. It’s impressive how much information is packed into the short tale, including background on the Purging and the traits of various peoples, such as the horns and talons of the Ro’Erden, and Eutau’s pupil-less eyes. Nevertheless, the uncle-nephew bond is the story’s strongest quality; ever protective Eutau is perfectly suited to the father figure role, even if he occasionally regrets his pledge to his sister. Kira, meanwhile, tackles mundane obstacles (such as when his peers call his skin ugly) as well as supernatural ones, all in endearing, phonetic speech: “I pwomise, I’ll be good,” he assures Eutau.
An expansive, edgy genre piece whose earnest familial theme shines.