In this debut novel, a prince, a soldier, a sheikh’s runaway daughter, and other characters deal with the aftermath of an invasion, from ancient demons to modern-day textiles.
Like George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, Johnson’s fantasy follows a rotating cast of characters. A defiant 16-year-old who runs away from home rather than marry a cruel emir, Raeesha soon enters the service of the invading army, after cutting her hair and disguising herself as a boy, assuming the arduous task of translator for General Singer. Singer, meanwhile, was just a lowly lieutenant until he was given the nearly impossible job of invading the stronghold of a dangerous witch. This promotion takes Singer away from his betrothed, Erika, daughter of a textile merchant, who escapes from her home, where her parents callously use her to sell their goods (“As the only presentable young woman in the establishment, it was her duty to fetch the bolts of cloth visiting merchants came to examine, and to be gawked at and sometimes furtively handled like the merchandise”). She attempts to find Singer in this land newly conquered by Prince Krion. But Krion now suspects a conspiracy against him. It may seem like a large, sprawling cast, but Johnson mostly keeps this in check, weaving the characters in and out of each other’s plots, and giving the world a homey feeling that includes both the concerns of kings and the day-to-day life of merchants. This is the sort of sweeping novel that features notes at the end about the world (languages, religions, demons) and the characters. As in many books with this structure, some storylines and characters may resonate more with certain readers; and the inclusion of all these plots—while skillfully woven together—leaves certain parts of the novel feeling overstuffed. (When a magician-scientist lectures on how he was “thrown into a reality pocket, one of many dimensional anomalies,” readers may feel that this is too much information, presented rather blandly.) Still, for all that Johnson packs in the plot, the pace is generally brisk and entertaining, as are the accompanying illustrations.
Multiple points of view give this fantasy a rich, lived-in feeling.