I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I’m writing this review before this book is available for sale, so it’s possible some things that I mention will be fixed or changed before its released.
The first thing I noticed about this book was the cover. I’m sure all of us are used to fantasy armor, and especially fantasy armor that looks ridiculous on women (bikini armor or other vulnerable areas being left uncovered, breasts shaped onto armor that would get them immediately killed if they were struck…). So the cover drew my attention when it had elaborate armor for her that did neither of those things and she was holding an axe.
I love medieval fantasy type settings and that made it look promising, so I opened it up.
When I read the summary of this book I thought that Valric, the brother, would die within the first couple chapters and the rest would be about Caliandra taking over the throne. It’s not. The majority of this book deals with inner politics, people trying to hide their own dark secrets while trying to discover each others, and groups working against each other. It’s not until the end that Caliandra actually finally gets the throne, and that’s after much effort.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Everyone is presented with their own motives. The man who usurps the throne isn’t just painted as a bad guy, but as someone who actually cares about the kingdom, and he does worse and worse things as he tries to keep the throne. Valric probably got the least fleshed out.
The book starts off as Valric is asking the Seer how they can save the ailing king, because when the king dies their status will be lowered. Royth, the Seer, has a horrible vision of the future with Valic in charge, and then sees peace with Caliandra, and decides that Valric has to die before he becomes king. He sends Valric off on a dangerous fool’s errand to get him killed – but not without feeling guilt over it.
From there the book takes its time setting everything up. Valric goes with several men, including the captain of the guard, Kells, and ends up being killed by Kells’ hand. The king’s favorite Minister, Marrol, decides it’s safest for the kingdom if he takes over instead of letting a magical axe decide, and he has the axe hidden. Both men are opposing each other and both don’t want their secrets to get out.
Characters are well built and their positions are understandable. But, there were a few places where I felt like it didn’t hold together quite as well, or where I was waiting for someone to bring up something and they didn’t. For example, when Valric is leaving on his quest he passes by the room his father is in. He hasn’t looked at his father in months because he doesn’t want to see him sick. Caliandra intercepts him and demands that he say goodbye to their father while they leave. They argue about it. I was waiting for Caliandra to bring up that in the time they stood a few feet from his door and argued, he could have said goodbye to their father several times.
Just a little after that I thought there was a bigger slip. Valric is irritably leaving and he thinks this:
the longer Father stayed alive, the better Callie’s offers might be, and the more she was worth as a wife. It was simple. And for all her love of logic, she refused to see it.
Caliandra actually never showed any misunderstanding about this. She knew perfectly well why he was going, and she knows her status will be higher as long as the king is alive. Their argument was about him taking a minute to say bye to the king. It didn’t have anything to do with her not understanding their social positions and what the death of the king entailed, and she never said anything that implied she didn’t get it.
There’s another small lapse like this later. In another kingdom, Valric and Kells are forced to fight each other to the death because Valric attacked children. Kells kills Valric. The soldiers react oddly to this. At first they seem angry at Kells for killing him, and even ask him if he’ll slit their throats (they were forced to fight or else all of them would be killed). I thought maybe it was a bit of a leap of logic just because they’re trained to lay down their lives for the prince. But then not long after that, when Kells makes up a story about Valric having an honorable death to tell people when they get home, one says this:
“Why keep that a secret?” the bitter soldier asked. “Tell the kingdom. Let them know what a bastard he was. He deserves it.”
After they were just being angry and bitter about Valric’s death. It seemed like a sudden shift in being on Valric’s side and hating Kells to being on Kells’ side and hating Valric.
There are some things like how much women are worth as a wife, and Fenwyn, a gay minister, being said to have the soul of a woman. I wrote all of this off as beliefs that were part of the setting, but if you don’t like those sort of narratives the book may not be for you.
Then there was Hanne, who was maybe the only one less fleshed out than Valric. There’s Caliandra, and Caliandra’s younger sister, Eliya, and Hanne is Eliya’s friend. Hanne doesn’t like Caliandra, which we’re given no explanation for at first. Then, we do get a hint why. Eliya and Caliandra are suffering after the loss of their brother, and Hanne yells at Caliandra for expecting her to be nice to her when Caliandra gave her no kindness when Hanne’s brother died years ago, and criticizes her and her friends for spying on the guards after her brother’s death.
Keep in mind, Caliandra would have been twelve or something when this happened, so I did expect her to look back at it and realize she was a little pissant when Hanne’s brother died, but there’s no such self-reflection or even much of a thought spared about this revelation. Instead, without even thinking about what happened to Hanne, she says this:
But I’d still take their company to yours. Witch.
The way Caliandra treated Hanne after Hanne’s brother died is never brought up again after that brief mention.
Later on, some assassins sneak into the castle disguised as maids. They’re there to kill the Seer, Royth, and take Caliandra hostage. When she finds out who they want to kill, she wants to kill him, too, because she blames him for Valric’s death. She more willingly leads them to the dungeon. They kill some guards. Then, when they go down to kill Royth, they end up fighting against Kells as well. Caliandra is upset that something might happened to Kells and second guesses her decision to help the assassins just because she wanted revenge.
She did second guess herself, but I was expecting it a bit sooner. She had previously watched some innocent guards died, and she was more excited by the fighting. She didn’t really show concern that innocent guards were being slaughtered in front of her until they got to Kells.
I think the largest lapse for me was with Sophine. She hires mercenaries to find the stolen axe pieces and find information on the culprit. When she meets with Dyern, the mercenary, he delivers both things, and they’re both legitimate. What I really didn’t get in this scene is the way Sophine treats him. She has him hold up the axe so she can test that it’s the real thing- fair enough. But during this whole scene she’s not particularly nice to him, and his hand is even broken while holding the axe.
Why was she being so mean to him? She hired him and he delivered the goods, and didn’t try to scam her. They did exactly what she wanted in good time. Sophine has been queen for a long time and is still a duchess, and she seems generally smart, so I really didn’t understand why she would burn this bridge. What if she needs to hire him again in the future? Why would she want to make an enemy? She should want to have a simple business transaction, keep thing neutral, and if she needed him in the future he would know she was good for the money and she would know that he can do what he says.
Nonchalantly getting his hand broken and not caring in the least seemed out of place, because I couldn’t think of a reason why she would do that. Now, maybe it could be a complete accident that his hand was broken while testing the axe – that’s fine. But she should try to smooth things over. Offer him a healer, offer extra money, something to keep things even.
There was one other lapse. Eliya has fled the country with her fiance, Mas, and gone back to his kingdom. When they’re in front of his father, the father says this:
When you gave into cowardice, and fled Barra, and left your servants behind.
They argue, and the king is eventually impressed that Mas survived the conditions he did to get home. A bit after that Eliya is talking to him and says:
He thought you had run with your entire retinue, and enjoyed luxury on the run.
But he already said that Mas left his servants behind, so he should have known he didn’t have his whole entourage with him.
There’s one more little thing. It also talks about how handsome the young soldier, Darryn (Caliandra’s crush), is a bit too much. Certainly not the worst I’ve seen in a book, but it was coming up often enough that I made a note about it.
Now, for parts that I liked. The things I mentioned before this are, for the most part, minor things. There was a lot to like in this book.
When Eliya is fleeing with her fiance some of their servants stay behind to distract the guards and will die doing so. I liked her thoughts on this.
The sight chilled her. As a child, she’d heard men had lain down their lives for her family, but until that moment, never had she seen it occur in person.
I mentioned earlier that I thought it mentioned Darryn being handsome too much. That’s because I think it’s fine to say that Caliandra thinks she’s hot, and it could be said once in awhile, but once we’ve established that fact the character should be able to hold his own without having to remind people that he’s attractive. And he’s all right, I don’t think he needs the extra support. Maybe a little informal and cocky for his position when he’s talking to nobility, but he’s okay.
It’s on the side of the “experienced arrogant man and the virginal woman,” but Caliandra at least has plenty of other things to think about and doesn’t obsess over him all the time. I did like one of his lines, where she insists he goes into a tunnel first and he says:
At least one of us is getting a good view.
After her coronation, Caliandra has a serious discussion with Fenwyn’s husband, and I appreciated that he said this about her previous relationship.
“Not all love lasts,” Josske said. “I’d be willing to say you had it. But it can fade. But it will find you again, Your Majesty.”
Too often books go with a “one true love” route, so I appreciated that he didn’t brush off her former love as nothing or fake or something. This is probably one of my favorite lines in the story.
Overall, it’s a good book with plenty of motives on each side, well fleshed out characters, and a pretty good medieval fantasy story. If you’re looking for something in this genre I’d recommend it. It’s not perfect, there are a couple things that I think got overlooked, but they might be changed before it’s put up on Amazon.
I give it a 10/10.