In the first installment of Hayes’ trilogy, Renaissance-style sovereign city-states vie for power and supremacy.
God-Emperor of Sarth orders Thanquil Darkheart, an Arbiter of the Inquisition (who hunts down heretics and renegade sorcerers), to track a traitor. The journey takes him to the city of Chade. The brutal thief Black Thorn, who’s killed many Arbiters in his day, leads a crew of equally disreputable outlaws into Chade on the most dangerous job of their careers. Master swordswoman Jezzet Vel’um flees from a powerful enemy across the lawless wastelands of the Wild, intent on reaching Chade. Tangled and intertwined, with a large roster of colorful secondary characters, the stories of the three main characters—Thanquil, Jezzet and Black Thorn—converge in a well-orchestrated plot driven by colorful character interaction and set against a somewhat derivative fantasy backdrop. By focusing the first volume of his trilogy on three deeply flawed individuals (Black Thorn especially, so scarred and jaded that his odd nobility is almost impossible to spot, rivets the attention whenever he’s on the page), Hayes is able to give readers a gutter-angle view of his world and so ease them into the larger narrative concerns. And the author has a flair for eliciting the full squalor, speed and violence of these characters’ lives. There are plots within plots (longtime readers of fantasy novels, for instance, will know exactly how much they can trust God-Emperors of any stripe), and although the prose is often overdone, Hayes has a very sure hand both for dramatic pacing and action sequences. Readers will care about the main characters without much liking or trusting them, and few who finish this first volume will hesitate about going on to the next.
A complex, satisfying fantasy novel from an author who may command a large genre following very soon.