This is truly an epic fantasy tale with complex characters who don’t always make the right decisions, but they usually fail for reasons we can see and sympathize with. Each of the main cast has gone against tradition in some way, whether by choice or the result of actions by others. Only Cassai has elements of destiny assisting her unearned, but even so, she must choose how to react to what she learns, making them all active participants in their futures.
The writing is rich. It’s full of body language and descriptive details that bring the characters to life. This makes their motivations grounded in a way speech alone might not have been able to do. A simple comparison of the experiences visible in two people’s eyes reveals their character more than stating it outright. The culture, or I should say cultures, is well drawn, while there is a real difference between the members of the different cultures in their attitudes and approaches. For example, their differing lifespans have a direct impact on their perspectives.
There is only one point when my absorption faltered. The modern world intrudes on theirs for a few short paragraphs, but otherwise their actions and behaviors match the circumstances from which they came.
The beginning hints and teases, giving just enough to intrigue. Though it sets Cassai up as the story focus, by using Elian’s point of view as well, we learn what she doesn’t know. Even more, we discover there’s a conspiracy of silence created for her benefit, and it’s clear the decision will come back to haunt those involved, though I didn’t see exactly how until her whole world changes. As an example, Elian knows her emotions interact with the local weather, but he doesn’t give us any more to hint she’s not the simple peasant girl she appears. Her dream in the first chapter tells us she’s a princess in hiding, but still we know only a part of the picture, and we don’t know how true the dream is.
This is not a light-hearted book. It has many very dark moments where innocents fall, demonstrating the true nature of the Fontre. But even in the midst of those, there is hope, bravery, and striving to make a difference, sometimes coming from the oddest corners. Cassai has those who have protected her from childhood at the start, but collects a random scattering of others as she goes. Each comes with their own motivations and histories that complicate their part in her journey.
Cassai herself is innocent but not ignorant. It takes some pieces falling into place, along with both prophetic dreams and those from her hidden memories, for her to understand her role in the story. Even then, she struggles with her responsibilities versus her expectations. Of all of them, her growth is the most significant, though I’d say everyone who comes within her circle ends up changed, sometimes in a bad way, but always different than they were at first.
I was worried the book would end on a cliffhanger, and in some ways it does because we don’t know what will happen next. But, it feels more like the closing of one story and the passage to the next book, appropriate for such a far-reaching epic tale. We know who they are, how what happened changed them, and what they plan to do next. Whether they will succeed is another story all together.
I was swept up by this world and the struggles within it. I look forward to learning what happens next.