In this historical fantasy, a young man learns of his parents’ fates and commits to an arduous path of vengeance.
In the 602nd year since the fall of the Dragon Empire, in the kingdom of Khetar, 8-year-old Joren lives with his aunt, Syara. She’s the crone (“Nurse, midwife, herbalist and matchmaker”) in the village of Nesa, and she guides the precocious boy, who has no memories from before his arrival in Khetar. As the years roll by, the ruthless Empire of the White Sun goes to war against nearby Thrace. One day, Joren witnesses seven darklings—reclusive members of the fairy (“sidhe”) races—traveling by daylight, wounded and frightened. One whispers to the boy, “We know thee, Queen’s Heir.” After Syara expends quite a bit of her vitality to heal them, Joren begins training with a spear under fighting master Korsul Two-Spear. He also learns from Ajax Whitebeard, a swordsman in service to Wurrunk, the god of war and death. Eventually, Joren learns that his father was Danu Queen’s Sword, who was killed by members of a werewolf tribe called the Lupaku, and that he’s the last of the Mabirshar royal line. With war rumbling beyond Nesa, he must “walk the Path of Kings” to keep his lineage alive. In this densely rendered debut, Boyle brings forbidding magical touches to an early Byzantine-era setting. He begins with a lively, extended prologue in which soldier Othar Inkson meets Danu, who’s just been mortally wounded. From there, Joren’s tale builds from a framing sequence in which he looks back on his life. His narration has a wandering quality that leaves room for lots of rich historical background regarding the region and its peoples but also includes personal commentaries. For instance, he discusses his love, Bel Karra, whose laugh “was like a musical spell,” saying further that, “I am loth to share these memories, even with you,” the reader. Those expecting a fast-paced action-fantasy may have difficulty with Boyle’s love of thick cultural textures. However, fans of the novel’s funereal atmospherics and stately cadence will return for the sequel.
A complex opening to a fantasy series that’s slow getting to its feet.