A fantasy which seemingly takes its inspiration from the Anglo-Afghan wars of the 19th century. The military feel and several other aspects of the book reminded me a bit of R. Scott Bakker’s ‘Darkness that Comes Before’ – but much, much better. (I really didn’t like the Bakker book, but this one I quite enjoyed.)
Marcus d’Ivoire is a commander at the far reaches of the Empire, part of a force assigned to support the deposed ruler of the Vordanai – not an enviable job, by most people’s lights. Few of the forces are volunteers. Marcus is – he followed an old friend into the army out of a sense of obligation. Unfortunately, his friend is a terrible soldier.
Meanwhile, Winter von Ihrenglass, a young woman who joined the army in a boy’s disguise in order to escape the clutches of a girl’s reform school, finds herself both cruelly persecuted – and on an unlikely trajectory of promotion and success within military ranks.
Both may have the path of their careers - and their lives - changed by the arrival of a new commander – the eccentric Colonel Vhalnich, who looks like a wizard, and is either a madman or a brilliant tactician.
Add in a woman spy, a couple of mysterious priestesses, and a legendary relic of power, and off we go...
This was a very impressive start to a series(?), and I wouldn’t mind reading the sequel (there’s a very clear setup for a sequel; it doesn’t end as satisfyingly as it might.) The first half of the book is military fiction with a good bit of realism – the latter part seems like it might veer into more familiar fantasy-quest territory; I’d personally hope the story doesn’t go too far in that direction. My only other slight criticism is that, in military fiction, it always feels more balanced to hear both sides’ perspective on a conflict. There are only a few brief scenes from a Vordanai perspective here, and they sort of feel like they were dropped in almost as lip service to that idea. I’d like to see a more fleshed-out perspective from the ‘other’ side.
Thanks to the publisher and the Goodreads First Reads program for giving me a copy of this book!