Ross (Some Fine Day, 2015, etc.) conjures an epic of demons and daevas, family, loss, and the turmoil of a kingdom in peril in her second novel.
Nazafareen and her sister, Ashraf, are crossing a frozen mountain range when a wight attacks and takes possession of Ashraf’s body. The experience drives Nazafareen to join the Water Dogs, an elite fighting force that defends the Empire against the incursions of the demonic undead—Druj—by using bound demons, or daevas, against them. These warriors “champion the innocent, protect the powerless, punish the wicked.” Nazafareen’s daeva, Darius, is uncommonly powerful, and the bond they share, both magical and empathic, is at times overwhelming (at one point, Nazafareen muses: “I knew right away where Darius was and what he was doing. It was another side effect of the bond, I’d discovered. I could feel his heart beating…I could shut my eyes and tell you exactly where he was, even if he was hundreds of leagues away”). That connection will be sorely tested, as they race to stop a madman from breaking the chains of every bound demon in the Empire—possibly destroying the kingdom in the process. Nazafareen’s faith will also be tested—faith in herself, her bond with Darius, and the Empire that has long justified the enslavement and mutilation of sentient beings for its own defense. To cap it all off, ancient evil and new ambition are rising to threaten the Empire. This tale’s grand scope is set off beautifully by its intimate start. The story grows wonderfully from such a small seed, and it is the moral and subjective implications of the vastness and impersonality of the Empire that work so well to drive the narrative. The plot builds effectively, and maintains a swift pace. Nazafareen’s initial simplistic motivation, hatred, becomes complicated by her link to Darius, and evolves into something much more intriguing and complex. This transition is helped by the clarity with which the characters are drawn. The immensity of the Empire occasionally threatens to smother the personal tale at the heart of the story, but, like shadows around a candle flame, it never quite manages that feat.
A spellbinding fantasy with some moral weight and a meatier narrative than usual, one likely to leave readers quite satisfied.