War built the Kisian Empire. War will tear it down.
Seventeen years after rebels stormed the streets, factions divide Kisia. Only the firm hand of the god-emperor holds the empire together. But when a shocking betrayal destroys a tense alliance with neighboring Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down.
In Kisia, Princess Miko Ts’ai is a prisoner in her own castle. She dreams of claiming her empire, but the path to power could rip it, and her family, asunder.
In Chiltae, assassin Cassandra Marius is plagued by the voices of the dead. Desperate, she accepts a contract that promises to reward her with a cure if she helps an empire fall.
And on the border between nations, Captain Rah e’Torin and his warriors are exiles forced to fight in a foreign war or die.
As an empire dies, three warriors will rise. They will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.
What a ride that was, eh?
The first thing that really gripped me about this book was the cover; it’s absolutely stunning, the folks at Orbit never fail to grip you right from the shelf. It’s a cover that begs to be read … then when you open the book, and read on, and cannot put it down, you realise that the cover is just the start of a masterpiece.
“A storm is coming and if I am going to survive it then I need to know what I’m up against.”
Madson truly has created a book of quotable phrases here, there’s many that I went back to read again and again, and a lot more than I’ve got saved on my kindle just to go over.
So, the plot here follows three individuals, a barbarian leader looking for somewhere to belong, an heir to a throne and an assassin with a mysterious voice in her head, that she seems to have befriended (go figure); all three of these POVs are wrapped up in a war for an empire involving two sides, but with as many secret, terrible, horrific and backstabbing factions as a GRRM novel. All of them vying for their own place in the empire, all of them as wretched and human as they come. Madson really has a skill for writing wonderfully human characters that make you feel.
The plot was truly exciting, my heart raced as huge battles unfolded … but also had time for a breather in the slower battles in court … it took a while to get to speed, but it sucked me in from the first pages, starting with an attempted assassination and setting me up for what unfolded within the rest of the novel.
“Has any captain ever done so poor a job at caring for his Swords?”
There’re no heroes here … no, just a bunch of humans trying to get by. Rah and his people struggle through exile and capture and even then there’s no hope of reprieve; their homelands reject them and everyone they meet is after a piece … and that is just the tip of the iceberg for the trials that these three characters face … just when you think there should be some reprieve, they’re thrust into something else. Something more sinister. But, still, because the characters are so well written, you do want to carry on following them in the hope that the reprieve is still to come. Each character has a unique voice, clear goals, and dreams, some a lot more morally dubious that some (which made it all the more fun). I also loved the way that all three characters don’t quite cross paths but they do acknowledge each other in some way.
Face-paced, full of death, beheadings, huge battles, and gruesome fates, this isn’t for the light-hearted, but it is a book full of culture. It’s wholesome and three dimensional and reads like a real-world history.
There was a vein a mystery that ran throughout and still carries on past the ending, which leans towards the godly that we’ve only just touched the surface on. The deities are still very much an unknown entity and I feel like they will come to play a lot more, though I cannot be certain. It may be that this is entirely different from the fantasy I usually read, where the movements of the peoples are pushed by the hands of the divine.
All said and done, this is a fantastic debut and I would urge everyone who loves fantastic world-building, realistic characters, intriguing and mysterious plotlines, and a culturally rich setting to go and get this right away!
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