Review – DIVINITY’S TWILIGHT by Christopher Russell

“Such is the tale in its entirety, and though it may only be a myth, it is certainly a reasonable explanation of the current conflict that plagues us…Peace is but a dream that few, such as myself, cling to with failing hope.”

Sanderson fans will delight in this debut novel where innovation collides with tradition, in author Christopher Russell’s fabulous classic fantasy / steampunk / sci-fi mash up entitled “Rebirth”, Book One of “Divinity’s Twilight”.

This book was the Grand Prize Winner for Best in Fantasy, Chanticleer International Book Awards 2020 (OZMA Award).

Russell’s prologue brings the reader to the world of Lozaria, and the iconic, world-changing battle of Har’muth. This conflict features, on one side, Sarcon, who is the eldest of three brothers, ruler of all, but not the undisputed ruler. His despotism has incited rebellion, led by his younger brothers, Darmatus and Rabban Aurelian. These two brother have chosen to ally in an attempt to overthrow Sarcon, even though Darmatus and Rabban are not completely aligned on everything, and somewhat bicker amongst themselves.

Darmatus emerges as the unquestioned leader between the two, yet Rabban’s capacity for knowledge and magic make him invaluable to the team. Other races and kingdoms have flocked to the cause of the allied two brothers, in their revolutionary efforts against Sarcon’s oppression.

But victory over Sarcon will not come without enormous sacrifice, and the two brothers will learn that their older sibling wields dark powers that should never have be summoned.

Approximately seven centuries later, in the aftermath of Har’muth, three great realms have emerged in Lozaria, named for the primary leaders in the great conflict: they are called Sarcon, Darmatia, and Rabban.

Each respective empire is founded on the personality and beliefs of the legendary figure for which they are named. As time has passed, each empire’s ethos has become intractable dogma. The empires eternally wage war against one another, and mimic the way the three Aurelian brothers disagreed, centuries earlier.

Whether aspiring for expansion of their own territory, power, and prestige; wishing to maintain the status quo in a peaceful and stable environment; or hungering for acquiring new technology, these competing aims of the three empires will clash. For these distinct world views and ways of life, seemingly cannot co-exist. One nation must emerge triumphant, and impose their will on the others.

A group of intrepid, but untried and incongruous military cadets will figure in the fate of the coming battles, even as they compete with each other. For war is indeed coming, and they will be thrust into the centre of the action, before their training is complete.

But an ancient, malevolent entity is not vanquished, as was thought, and this presence will also have their say in which nation triumphs as the conqueror, and who is crushed underfoot.

If I had a quibble with this book, it is with the characterization. Let’s start by saying up front, there is no absence of backstory and history to flesh out these potentially incredible characters. We learn, in many cases, about their upbringing, and how they slot into their unique place in the story. The POVs felt distinct in the language used, and the disparate cadets from the Darmatian Military Academy, who manifest to become our primary players, are intriguing.

Each cadet has magic powers, but the depth and breadth of that magical powers varies from cadet to cadet. Some cadets can summon more than one type of magic, while others are more constricted in how many forms of magic they have available to them.

The cocky and overbearing roguish ladies’ man, who thinks he’s a great hero, is Vellan, who has considerable and unique abilities. Similarly arrogant and even more remote in her personality, is Sylette, Vellan’s biggest rival. Velle, Vellan’s paramour is also formidable, and Leon, Vellan’s buddy, is the comic relief. Lillith is another capable cadet. Matteo is brilliant academically but a coward who fears combat, and is mercilessly bullied by others including the arrogant Vellan, who thinks Matteo does not deserve to be among them.

So we have the potential for some very well-fleshed out and incredible characters, yet they are crafted in a somewhat arms-length way. Still, the prospects alone for how awesome these characters could be, made me want to read more about them, and find out where their arcs would take them.

“In effect, they were actually quite similar. Both had a void in their hearts they were trying to fill, and both sought after they could never possess. But while he had grown and found peace in their time together, Vallen remained mostly unchanged. Leon might be the prodigy’s closest friend, but even he was blocked from ever knowing the real him.”

Sarcon – the clear villain – was perhaps was the most compelling character for me. He’s utterly ruthless, creepy, and cunning. Failure is not an option for him, and he will go to extreme and frightening lengths to achieve his ends.

“Devout theologians alleged that the Creator blessed the Sylph trice. Their first boon was magical potency. Second was their beauty and grace. And last was their ability to control their own blood. No, not in the way that traditional mages manipulated the men’ar residing IN blood, but harnessing the very ichor of life itself.”

The worldbuilding was astronomically good. The richness and splendour of the setting, a beautiful backdrop where soldiers wield fiery swords and can warp nature to serve their will, humongous metal airships engage in aerial combat with devastating results, magitech runs amok, non-human warriors of incredible power and skill change the course of any battle by their entry, and competing kingdoms vie for supremacy, and ensuring their method of existence is not only maintained, but thrives, at the expense of the other cultures, was incredible.

The lore was spectacular and very immersive, and also helped place in context how each empire was inspired and fashioned deeply by the way their founder participated in the battle of Har’muth.

“In the near distance, passing in and out of the occasionally puffy clouds before them, was the rest of the Darmatian air fleet…about them all was the soft glow of magic energy…”

In terms of thematic, religion takes a central place here, and there is a clear binding to the Christian religion of our world. Though it is clear the author espouses, Christianity, and those are his views, that said, religion is presented in a way that is respectful, sensitive, discriminating. A more agnostic / atheist view is also presented, and it is treated with care and diligence, providing, overall, a very balanced and nuanced perspective.

Here is where, in addition the wonderful worldbuilding, that Russell created a fan in me, of his work: the prose.

There is an exceptional beauty, grace and eloquence to Russell’s prose. For someone such as I who adores more ornate prose (that somehow manages to remain accessible), I was in heaven. Russell does not write like a debut novelist, but rather a polished veteran of many books. He writes with the accessibility of a Sanderson, yet also with the more elevated prose I yearn for from Sanderson, but am left wanting.

“The world burned. Streaks of orange and red crisscrossed the sky, put there by siege engines or battalions of elemental mages. When they struck true, flesh boiled, and horrendous cries rose along with the embers and smoke. Even when they missed, the chaos of the battlefield only grew. Dry prairie grasses, waist-high in some places, went up like oil-drenched torches, casting forth tendrils of hungry fire that spread through the plain in a catastrophic chain reaction.”

The pacing was also perfect for me. While there is tons of exposition, there is also plenty of action, political intrigue, and dynamic character interactions and dialogue to devour here.

The prologue in particular, while long, was explosive, and maybe my favourite part of the novel. The prologue is written from Darmatus’ perspective, and it’s full of battles, glory, heartbreak, heroism, and tragedy.

The ending of the novel with have the reader yearning for more.

This book was an easy full 5 stars, with the exception of me wanting some more character development, hence the 4.5 overall rating.

I craved a tad more about some of the motivations of some of the characters, and a bit more introspection, but this was a slight detraction from what was, overall, a fabulous book!

I am very excited to see what Russell has in store for future installments of “Divinity’s Twilight”!



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