In this epic story, we follow Kihrin, an orphan who one day finds himself forced into a royal family as the prince’s long-lost son. He’s not too happy about this, especially since he is effectively trapped in this new home. But this is only one part of the whole tale, told from the perspective of Talon, a mimic (i.e., a highly deadly creature who can perfectly mimic anyone) who is guarding a present-day adult Kihrin in a jail cell.
Kihrin tells his own story, starting later in his life, about being auctioned into slavery and having things not exactly go as planned. He realizes that the stories he was told as a child aren’t exactly how things work out in real life. And that maybe he’s not the hero the prophecies speak of.
The first thing to note about this book is its structure. Told in a frame narrative way, we initially encounter a present-day Talon and Kihrin (guard and prisoner respectively) sharing stories about the latter person. They both detail just how Kihrin ended up where he is now. But while he starts with a later time in his life, Talon begins her tale of Kihrin at a much younger age. They pass a stone back and forth that records anything spoken while holding it. A third layer to this is a mysterious person taking footnotes on the stories told, adding in insightful commentary such as clarifications, disagreements, etc.
I really liked how the book was written. The footnotes were engaging and really helped add to the world-building, as well as the sense of doubt between both sides of the story. Can we really trust Talon or even Kihrin for that matter?
There are two main, physical settings: the city and the island. The island was great. We learn about a culture whose patron goddess is the one of death. Seeming at first like a ruthless group who sacrifice people for evil, we soon learn of their customs and ways. What could have become another example of the “barbaric others” soon turns into a dynamic culture full of people just living their lives.
Unfortunately, I found the city itself to be pretty lackluster. It felt like a lot of other settings I’ve seen. Big city with different Houses, each lusting for political power. Small villages with bars and taverns. Bards who tell stories of the goddesses and history. While it wasn’t completely unoriginal, it was largely forgettable compared to the island. The actual world-building, though, was fascinating. The book does a great job of showing the political corruption of the Houses and how it affects the city as a whole.
Lastly, the characters. It’s interesting to see the progression that Kihrin makes from a young boy to a grown man. He is at times extremely aggravating and at others very likable (and everywhere in between). Although he is quick to make assumptions and jump to conclusions, he does eventually at least try and see things from another perspective. And then there’s Talon. She is highly manipulative and has a sense of evil-for-the-sake-of-evil about her. However, she is still a dynamic character with no shame for who she is, albeit still pretty unlikable. I don’t want to say too much, since part of the fun is slowly uncovering more about her.
Overall, this book features a great story structure, world-building, and characters. The bonds that Kihrin forms were wonderful to read about. There is a hint of romance, but the relationships largely focus on familial ones and friendships. While I didn’t find the world itself to be terribly unique or inventive, the way the story was told definitely makes this a book to check out.
(I received an e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.)