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The tl;dr: Reminiscent of those classic fantasy epics while still feeling fresh, Demon’s Tear is a book with a massive scale with impending war, elves, dwarves, magical jewels, necromancy, political strife, heists, and more. It is everything epic fantasy readers love lovingly tied together in a monster of a novel. The world is well-developed and lived in, and the characters shine through the epic qualities of the book. Due to its epic nature the actual overarching plot fails to really shine through, but Sanders is definitely planting a lot of plot seeds to harvest in future books!

Cover of Demon's Tear

 

My full review: 

There have been several conversations recently about epic fantasy being “dead”, and while this may have some truth of it in traditional publishing, epic fantasy is alive and kicking in indie spaces. Demon’s Tear is another compelling and chonky book with a massively epic scale, numerous POV characters, magical and deadly objects, elves, dwarves, thieves, and rogues. Demon’s Tear reads as a fresh, modern book that will delight fans of The Wheel of Time and other classic epics, without the sluggish pacing.

Like with many epic fantasies, writing a quick summary of this book is nearly impossible. There is brewing hostility between two nations in an uneasy cold war, two young thieves who steal a magical jewel, and a lot of bad guys who are after them. The plot is much better and much more intricate than what I am saying here, but suffice it to say that if you like a bit of politics, a splash of battle scenes, a dash of evil mages, and a sprinkle of good old heist thievery, this book will delight you in spades.

With this massive epics with multiple storylines, I tend to find that a lot of the whether I like the book falls to the details. All epic fantasies hit similar-ish plot beats, so it comes down to how immersed in the world, characters, and plot I feel. Luckily, most of the elements of Demon’s Tear just work so well.

Demon’s Tear took me a minute to warm up to. The prologue/first chapter didn’t immediately grab me because we were introduced to a slew of new characters (including a supporting character having nearly the same name as the main character) doing not-so-interesting things. Very quickly, however, the book finds its rhythm, opening into a fantasy world that is fully fleshed out and lived in. Demon’s Tear follows the modern trend in epic fantasy of not spelling out every little detail about the world to you (you won’t get descriptions of every cultural group’s preferences for clothing, food, etc.), but this is a world with a deep history and long-standing sociopolitical and inter-species relationships. When we get glimpses of different nations and cultures, small details slowly emerge that enrichen and liven up the reading experience. It has been a long time since I have read a book that has elicited the same feelings as the world of the 80s and 90s have, but Demon’s Tear definitely did that.

The book’s locations even work really well on the more micro-level. Much of the second half of the book takes place in a single city that immediately has its own unique character and internal politics. It is kind of like an adult, serious Rogueport from Paper Mario and the Thousand Year Door – a city of underground crime that controls the city’s inner workings. This book will utterly sweep you away into another world.

The worldbuilding is definitely helped out by the characters in this book. There are a lot of characters in Demon’s Tear (would it be epic fantasy without them?), but unlike most other books of this scale I never had a hard time remembering who everyone was. Each character has their own distinct arc and personality, and even the POV characters with relatively small “onscreen” time (including one necromancer) are instantly recognizable. Sanders expertly makes sure there are enough characters for the epic scale he is going for in Demon’s Tear without ever feeling like he is just adding extraneous characters for the heck of it. The book is both huge in scale, while never forgetting the more human and intimate scale that emotionally engage the reader.

I also really liked how Sanders organized the book, which made me connect with the characters even more. Rather than cycling through the POV characters at a fairly regular rate, he divides the chapters in several core sections. Each section focuses on one major storyline, and only cycles through the POV characters directly related to that storyline. This means that you spend a lot of time with a small set of characters with a small-ish goal before you rotate out (and then they’ll rotate back in later in the book). This made the characters instantly more memorable, and I much preferred to this more common way of just instantly rotating between all of the characters.

The one major thing that let me down in this book is that even by the end the overarching plot is still pretty hazy and fuzzy. The importance of the titular “demon’s tear” and where the story is going is remains nebulous…and in a bad way. Like many readers, I love the thrill of the unknown and being surprised by where a story is taking me – but only if I am comfortably aware what the overarching stakes are for the characters. Sanders falls a bit into the epic fantasy trap of throwing a lot of balls in the air, but not making it clear what this specific story is really about. A deadly gem, an impeding war, and thieves on the run are all fantastic and well-realized elements to this book, but they never clearly gel together to an overarching story, even when all of the main characters come together in the same physical place by the end of the book. I’m still excited to dive into book two whenever it comes out because of the emotional connections I’ve made with these wonderful characters, but I’m not necessarily excited for what happens next because I don’t know what I should be looking forward to (if that makes sense).

But this doesn’t take away from the fact that this was an absolute blast of an epic fantasy experience, and fans clamoring for that feeling of those massive epics should definitely pick this one up.

Nathan

Nathan is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology where he specializes in death rituals of the Ice Age in Europe and queer theory. Originally from Ohio, he currently lives in Kansas where he teaches college anthropology, watches too much TV, and attempts to make the perfect macarons in a humid climate. He is also the co-host of The Dragonfire podcast with James Lloyd Dulin. He reads widely in fantasy and sci-fi and is always looking for new favorites!

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