A powerful team investigates a string of mysterious massacres in this fantasy novel.
Trouble has come to the forests and mountains of northern Albyn. Rural temples, offshoots of the beloved central Temple in the thriving city of Bandirma, have become the sites of strange slaughters. Runes and symbols are written on the floor in blood, and desiccated corpses have been drained of their life force. Three potent emissaries from the Temple are sent to investigate: Lord Bradon, a mighty warrior leading an army; Sir Killock, a skilled and solitary knight accompanied by his protégée tracker, the sly ex-thief Wyn; and Southern foreigner Lady Danielle d’Lavandou, who wields her family’s ancestral weapon, a blade that once smote the legendary Nameless King. The ritualistic murders seem to imply the return of the Crunorix, a death cult devoted to the Nameless King’s magi. Gifted with the ability to use magic Devices such as an enchanted battle hammer or a guiding amulet, the group pursues the cultists, leading it into an underground realm and dangerous battles with zombielike husks, deadly wights, and a dark force growing in power, not only in the mountains of Albyn, but also in the heart of the Temple itself. As the quest proceeds, Danielle and Wyn fall in love, a tentative pairing with grave implications for Danielle’s ancestral right to wield the Martyr’s Blade. In this series opener, Manners (The Artificer’s Tale, 2017, etc.) creates a complex world with a complete culture, religion, and history. His characters are broadly likable, and some of the novel’s highlights involve the banter between these old friends. Though Albyn, with its rogue-filled taverns and deep forests, will feel familiar to many fantasy fans, underground settings are intriguingly sinister and unique. The author fashions tunnels and caverns where time and space behave strangely and madness threatens intruders. Danielle emerges as a strong central character, formidable and confident while still vulnerable and thoughtful. Wyn spouts slangy sayings but the development of her interior life can’t quite match Danielle’s, which mutes the impact of their romance. In this intricate, if at times overloaded, story, the ritualists and monsters never become bracing villains. But a figure emerging near the end of this volume seems to promise a more striking opponent in the next installment.
An energetic and captivating swords-and-sorcery tale that bodes well for the next book in the series.