First installment of a fantasy series featuring a power struggle over the remains of an ancient empire, from the co-author (with wife Melissa de la Cruz) of the Heart of Dread trilogy (Golden, 2016, etc.).
The vast Soleri empire controls its four subject kingdoms by holding the kings’ heirs hostage. Since the godlike Soleri rulers never appear in public—it’s death to look upon their faces—a human First Ray serves as intermediary between them and the people. King Arko Hark-Wadi of Harkana never became a hostage (his father fought a war to prevent it), but Arko’s son, Ren, isn’t so fortunate. While Ren’s older sisters, Merit and Kepi, quarrel over marriage to a neighboring king, Arko receives a summons to attend the emperor (a virtual death sentence), thus triggering Ren’s release. Meanwhile, Sarra Amunet, Mother Priestess of the imperial sun god cult and also Arko’s estranged wife, schemes against a powerful rival to become the next First Ray. Her main duty is to preside over the annual eclipse ceremony, or Devouring, but, ominously, the eclipse fails to occur for the first time since the empire’s founding. These developing plotlines gradually expose the empire’s rotten heart, with gods nobody believes in, imperial weakness concealed by a ruthlessly bureaucratic cruelty, and impending mass starvation. The hardworking backdrop borrows heavily from ancient Egypt and similar sources, but the sensibilities displayed are entirely modern. In broad outline all these portentous events sound quite feasible and intriguing, but the details quickly blur and dissolve in the light of the characters’ persistent blundering and lack of forethought. And of real originality there is little evidence.
A pedestrian opening volume.