What I gleaned about the story: Asho is the lowest of the low, a slave-level Bythian raised far above his station as a joke. But while some people shy away from cruel laughter and derision, others use it to fuel their vengeance. Guess which kind Asho is.
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Analysis: Here’s the opening paragraph:
The wind plucked at Lord Kyferin’s war banner, causing the black wolf emblazoned on the field of white to snap fitfully as if impatient with the delay. Asho shivered at the sight despite the quilted undercoat that he wore beneath his chainmail, and sat up straighter in Crook’s saddle. For years he had only seen the war banner hanging above his Lord’s high chair in the great hall, limp and still, but now it rippled and surged as if awakened and thirsting for blood. It was his first time riding into war with the Black Wolves. Even though he was at the back of the company with the other squires, he felt as vividly alive and terrified as if he were positioned in the vanguard.
I love the feeling of anticipation this creates. Something is about to happen, but we’re not exactly sure what. We’ve obviously opened on a calm point, but only just, as the action seems only moments away. It also manages to paint in a number of backstory details without getting in the way, and uses the imagery of the wolf on the flag very effectively to hold our attention. There’s nothing in this paragraph that makes me think, “Oh my god, I have to read this entire book right now,” but it does get me anxious to read the next page. And that’s all the opening paragraph has to do.
Analysis: As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that we’re going to be following several different POV characters, but they are revealed to us slowly, allowing each new story line to grab hold and immerse us in the POVs and concerns of those new focal characters before moving on to others. And most importantly, we keep going back to the main character, so that his carrot stays firmly dangled out in front of us. Too often authors are in such a hurry to get their main characters on the stage that they don’t take the time to make them matter to us. Fortunately, that was not the case here.
Analysis: Fantasy is frequently criticized for having a very limited imagination when it comes to settings. In most work, the heavily forested quasi-medieval world reigns supreme. But here we have a world in which the physical geography is somewhat disjoint, with countries somehow physically separated from each other, and drifting rock clouds going by with churches on them, and it’s all so delightfully strange.
I haven’t quite got my head around exactly how it all works yet, but it seems deeply tied to the religion, with some form of reincarnation going on in which each new iteration of your life is lived on either a nicer, or more depressing country/island, depending on how well you lived the last one, until you finally go through either the White Gate (for winners) at one end, or the Black Gate (losers) at the other. This is the kind of inventiveness that can make fantasy so profound, where the very rules of existence in the story world are just more putty in the author’s hands with which they can explore their ideas and themes.
Note: I did find a few places after the clock had stopped, where spaces were missing, punctuation was oddly spaced, letters were transposed, etc., and one place where half a paragraph was repeated by accident, but these were infrequent, and for the most part minor enough that I just shrugged them off.
Final Note: This was one of those rare cases where I stopped the treadmill but didn’t stop reading. By the end of the next day I’d finished the entire book. I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a world of knights and honor, but offers more than your typical elves/dwarves in the forests/mountains.
How much did I like it? I’ve already signed up for the pre-order for Book 2, which comes out in a couple of weeks. And I never sign up for pre-orders.
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