This debut novel weaves a tale of gods, ghouls, and forbidden magic.
Kaell, ward to Lord Vraymorg and bonded to the god Khir, is a warrior destined to spend his life killing ghouls. Aric Caelan is an Isles prince who is attacked by ghouls, who conscript him to poison Kaell. If Aric succeeds, his sister, Azenor, who is set to marry the king, will be spared. And then there are Heath Damadar and his alluring sister, Judith, who embark on a mission to find a bladesman for their own mysterious ends. They drug and question Pairas, one of Aric’s men. Each of these tales is stitched together against the backdrop of a fantasy world governed by a rumored false king and beholden to various gods. In this realm, cultists seek to bring about the resurrection of their true monarch, Roaran Caelan, now long dead. It is a dark kingdom, where ghouls—with their blond hair and beautiful features that do not match their bloodthirsty natures—are a threat to any defenseless village. Each chapter shifts its point of view to a different character, fleshing out the world in bits and pieces to create a tapestry that can only be seen once readers are able to step back and sit with the narrative for a time. Hartland’s prose is quite beautiful: “Butterflies danced in secret, sunlit groves where flame trees shed scarlet flowers.” But she does not shy away from vividly depicting the harsh realities of violence in this turbulent realm. While readers of high fantasy will likely delight in the rich machinations of this hefty volume, those less familiar with the genre may find themselves confused by the rapid back-and-forth perspectives as well as the lack of straightforward descriptions in the worldbuilding. Still, this detailed and lovingly crafted novel is an excellent series opener. The tale should especially appeal to fans of politics-infused fantasy narratives like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.
An engaging and intricate fantasy that delivers plenty of political intrigue.