*I received an ecopy of this book via NetGalley. This has not influenced my review.*
This book was a lot! A lot to take in and understand and remember, which I think hampered my enjoyment some, but there were still things I enjoyed about it. It was difficult at first, but I got more into the book as it went on.
There was lots of world-building*, lots of politics, lots of fantasy cities and concepts and words, lots of very long names full of k’s and z’s and x’s. (*Maybe I should say it was less “world-building” and more just “world” since some things weren’t very explained.) There was magic and dragons and dinosaurs and necromancers. It was a hard book to get a handle on at first. I listen to ebooks with a screenreader/TTS, and I will admit that probably made it even harder. (Unfortunately the audiobook isn’t available to request from my library, or I would’ve waited once I realized.) I hate to make a big deal out of names, because what if there are real cultures out there with names like this? But this book isn’t about an actual culture, which means they didn’t need to be like this, and I have never struggled with names before the way I did with these. Eventually I was able to remember all the most important characters, but there were some I lost track of. Others I’m not even sure if they were names or honorifics. And sometimes you’d get something like, “Akizeke Shikishashir Dzaxashige,” (that’s a real example, I didn’t make that up) and it just became white noise in my head. Even with my eyes, I would’ve just skimmed over a name 29 letters long.
But after rereading some sections and getting more used to all the names and words and fantasy elements, I started to struggle less and understand more. I don’t know that I fully understood everything, but I understood enough to generally get what was happening in the plot.
Speaking of the plot, as I mentioned, there was A LOT of politics. I guess I thought there wouldn’t be quite this much and that there would be more romance. But this book is very much about the politics as Kore tries to make alliances and sway people in power to one candidate’s side in order to make sure his father doesn’t get the position of leadership. There are lots of twists and turns and betrayals and secrets revealed. The author clearly put a lot of thought, detail, and complexity into the plot, which I can appreciate! It’s just a book you really need to pay attention to.
The matriarchal society aspect of the book wasn’t exactly nuanced, it was basically just sexism, misogyny, and gender roles swapped, and more extreme because of the brutal fantasy world. But it did highlight how pervasive, ridiculous, and arbitrary the misogyny and gender roles we have in real life are.
There were so many terrible people. And, to be fair, a lot of the characters in this book were people of power, and, in real life, many people with power are terrible. But still, it felt sort of overwhelming, so be prepared for that.
There were some good, kind, compassionate characters too though! Kore had a hard time trusting people and believing they actually cared about him, and he was willing to do almost anything for revenge on his father, so that led him to do some unkind things sometimes. But I felt more for Kore the more I learned about his past. It made sense why he was the way he was, why he closed himself off, why he felt broken. And I liked the growth he had over the book. Faziz could also do things that hurt people, but he did so because he cared so much about the less fortunate in the city who needed him, and he would do anything to help them. Ria may have struggled with drinking and losing focus, but she was understanding, loyal, and willing to risk her life to do what was right.
Rather than a triad, this was a polyamorous romance, one character with two partners who both just wanted him to be happy. I felt the romance more between Kore and Faziz. Ria was good for him, but Kore and Faziz had chemistry, a spark, that Kore and Ria just didn’t.
The characters talked pretty to each other. The kind of pretty that’s not realistic but is nice to read, romantic and swoonworthy. Things like, “I know who you are. The same stardust birthed both our souls. Nothing you do can hurt me, not in any way that lasts. You’re all the healing I need.”
Overall, I am struggling to choose a rating for this book. There were a lot of good things here—the thought and imagination put into the world, the complexity of the plot, some pretty writing, Kore’s character growth—and I want to give the author credit for that, but I feel like I was so overwhelmed in trying to keep up with the world and names and politics and plot that it left little room for me to focus on and connect with the characters and relationships, which is what I crave most in books. Still, if it sounds good to you, and especially if you read about a lot of complex fantasy worlds and are used to that sort of thing, you may enjoy it even more!
As a parting gift, here’s a quote that made me laugh:
“I knew something lay beneath the Archive! Is it magnificent, being touched by a god?”
“I came on the altar.”
Anyone who likes lots of complex politics, complex fantasy worlds, magic, polyamorous romance, and character growth.