Transformation by Carol Berg

Seyonne is a man waiting to die. He has been a slave for sixteen years, almost half his life, and has lost everything of meaning to him: his dignity, the people and homeland he loves, and the Warden’s power he used to defend an unsuspecting world from the ravages of demons. Seyonne has made peace with his fate. With strict self-discipline he forces himself to exist only in the present moment and to avoid the pain of hope or caring about anyone. But from the moment he is sold to the arrogant, careless Prince Aleksander, the heir to the Derzhi Empire, Seyonne’s uneasy peace begins to crumble. And when he discovers a demon lurking in the Derzhi court, he must find hope and strength in a most unlikely place…

Transformation is the first book in the epic Rai-Kirah trilogy. It is told from the point of view of Seyonne, an enslaved former sorcerer who strives to foil a demonic plan in the foreign and hostile court that branded him as a barbarian and butchered his people. For that, he needs to protect the man who owns him, the spoiled and cruel prince Aleksander.

What I enjoyed most in the story was the relationship between Aleksander and Seyonne. The prince, who starts off as an unholy mix between a less sociopathic Jorg Ancrath and a smarter Regal Farseer, goes through some tremendous character growth. Seyonne acts like his protector and conscience, and a strong bond starts developing between them. I loved Seyonne from the beginning of the story; it wasn’t hard to connect with him and empathise with his hardships. Sixteen years of bondage took their toll, but his sense of duty and loyalty are deeply ingrained within him. When Aleksander is targeted by the demons that Seyonne and his people have sworn to destroy for centuries, it didn’t matter that the prince was the heir of a tyrannic empire. Seyonne put his life on the line to guard his.

The lore is rich and expansive. We get to delve into the rigid court of the Derzhis, with all its pomp and ceremony, but also its casual cruelty and violence towards those of “lesser” status. We also get to see different settings, but I won’t say more so as not to spoil anything. The worldbuilding as a whole is very well thought through: there are geopolitical and demonic foes, magic in abundance and even prophecies of doom and saviours. 

Plot-wise, the story is divided into two distinctive parts: first the buildup, where we explore the characters and the world, and then a second part, more action-driven and with higher stakes. My personal preferences led me to enjoy the first part more; however full of excitement and tension that second act was, the tentative beginning building up to a relationship of trust between the two leads was very satisfying to follow.

The story is pretty self-contained, but leaves some unfinished business and I’m curious to read more.

I would recommend Transformation to people who enjoy:

  • Traditional epic fantasy
  • Non-western settings
  •  Slow-building bromances
  • A rich worldbuilding
  • Complex magic systems
  • “Good versus evil” plotlines

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