In this first installment of a debut fantasy series, deceit and betrayal may play a part in the violation of a peace treaty between two realms that barely survived a war long ago.
Pious Argentum is the Prime Prefect of the Praetorium, one of the protectors of the walled city of Sanctuary. The city resides in Elysia, half of the planet Aurania, which once endured a devastating war with the darker half, Shayde. Nevertheless, the people of Sanctuary are restless; the Daggers of Merusul, for one, from Attamerus (Shayde’s capital) are sowing the seeds of doubt regarding citizens’ secular belief, the Way of Lumerus. Pious has the skills to survive outside Sanctuary’s walls and, at the request of Master Alchemist Zosim, agrees to retrieve Evershade Moss near the Elysia-Shayde border. The impending Tenebrae makes this venture exceptionally dangerous; it’s a period of uninterrupted darkness during which time predatory creatures of Shayde run rampant. By chance, Pious witnesses a murder as well as members of the Shaydean Alliance breaking the terms of the Truce by entering the Elysian Provinces. Back in Sanctuary, Pious is ambushed by Daggers, but one of them informs the Prime Prefect of a conspiratorial plot against him. This unfortunately proves true: a series of events prompts someone to accuse Pious of being in league with the Veiled Unrepentant, a group that, among other things, practices human sacrifice. Later appearing in front of the Tribunal, he faces several charges, from assault to murder. This puts Pious at risk of banishment, but soon there’s something more pressing: Sanctuary’s under attack.
Chapman’s tale, as the subtitle suggests, is epic. The narrative’s dense with characters, history, and jargon. Some of these facets are initially perplexing as they’re without context (like the first mention of the Khyramic Order). There is, however, an extensive glossary at the end that readers can use for reference. Meticulous details help shape the world of Aurania. There are, for example, entirely new units of measuring weight, volume, and time: a pass is a full revolution of Lux (the bright, sun-esque star) while a cycle comprises 15 passes. And a chart for the units, like the glossary, is an accommodating guide. A few characters, meanwhile, come with mysterious back stories. Pious himself can only remember the last nine or 10 cycles of his life; an incident on the planet Serica, where he was raised, led to his and others’ mental trauma and apparent memory loss. Similarly, villains aren’t easy to pinpoint: there are double crosses and Pious’ unlikely allies while the lengthy battle in Sanctuary entails deciphering who’s actually behind the attack. Contemporary aspects (mostly cursing and insults) are best when they conform to the setting—for example, bootleg liquor is called Noxshine (Nox is the counterpoint to Lux). There are occasional slips, such as a few instances of years and days in the text. But readers may be more bothered by the influx of lingering questions the story doesn’t answer, like someone’s reputed link to a prophecy and those responsible for quite a number of deaths.
A world brimming with dynamic characters and a complex saga that’s only just beginning.