A prostitute and a runaway slave team up to escape a world destabilized by exploitative mining and labor practices in this debut novel.
In the city of New Dera on an alternative Earth, the former knight-turned-prostitute Ava Sandrino comes home one evening to find a wraith—a super-strong, horned humanoid who does not eat or feel cold—hiding there. He is called Sariel, and he has just escaped the inhumane conditions of the mines, where the mysterious element brimstone is pulled from the ground and shipped to the workshops of the Empire’s alchemists. Ava agrees to shelter the fugitive slave from those pursuing him—she feels strangely attracted to him, after all. Sariel is trying to reach the land beyond the Northern Dark: a separate world safe from the powers that rule this one. But to get there, Sariel will have to travel through lands controlled by geomancers and the feared, faceless One O’Clock King, who guards the path beyond their world. After arranging passage for Sariel with an old friend and finding herself on the wrong side of the law, Ava becomes separated from the wraith. But the more she learns about Sariel’s mysterious past, the more it begins to sound like getting out of New Dera may be a good idea for both of them. In this series opener, Rosenberg’s prose is gritty and sharp, combing elements of sword-and-sorcery and urban fantasy with a stylish cyberpunk energy. She excels at worldbuilding, giving readers just enough to provoke more questions about the larger universe of the story: “As she washed, paint filled the tub in rivers of purple and green. October was the month of Halfa. The avenues outside blazed with checkered lanterns, hung in honor of the bull and his silver hoard. They worshipped him with sex and wine and reams of paper money.” The book contains some clever corollaries regarding geopolitics and climate change denial, but the novel is too short and fast paced to get into the weeds about anything. The next volume in the series should be awaited with anticipation by readers.
An original and highly immersive introduction to an intriguing fantasy world.