From author Scalini (Mordraud Book 2, 2015) comes a fantasy novel—the first of four in a translation from Italian—about three brothers in a time of war.
When readers first meet Varno, he’s in the uncomfortable position of being pinned to a tree thanks to an enemy’s lance. Though the blow didn’t kill him, Varno’s end certainly seems near. As a Khartian, Varno admits that his people “love fighting wars,” though his experience has hardly been positive: “He was about to die for nothing, he realised.” After escaping the battlefield, Varno is miraculously nursed back to health by Eglade, an Aelian who has always been taught to despise Khartians. Eglade is, by Varno’s assessment, “gorgeous, yet strange,” and the two develop a relationship beyond convalescence. They learn to love each other as they discuss the differences between their cultures and the state of the ongoing conflict, until a sudden violent encounter forces them to flee together. After years of wandering and struggle, the two are eventually able to start a family, with three boys—Dunwich, Mordraud, and Gwern—born from this unlikely union. What will the world make of these half-Aelian, half-Khartian siblings and their three distinct personalities? Dunwich is eventually sent away to learn Arcane chanting, while Mordraud takes a liking to swordplay, and Gwern proves his capacity for learning. The stage is thus set for an adventure that meanders through the realm of Cambria. Though the story contains its share of combat—as when Dunwich observes a battlefield: “Bits of metal, crumpled shields and broken blades were scattered about”—it is first and foremost about the development of these three young men. The complex worldbuilding is often lengthy on explanations—there is much to be said about the chanting Dunwich studies, for instance—yet the agile storytelling nevertheless avoids many banalities of the genre. Some readers may be less enthralled by the voluminous Cambrian history, e.g., “to secure control, the Empire had had to depose the historic family ruling those lands for generations: the Rinns, who were the oldest and most extensive lineage in the whole of the east.” But readers happy to engage with such passages will find a nuanced exploration of a troubled time.
Peculiar protagonists in a winding, worthwhile story.