“Fate is a condescending, angry, sadistic bitch with few things to do and too much free time. But when Fate decides to strike, you can choose to die broken, or you can break like obsidian.”
From the moment this book first came onto my radar, I just had a feeling that I would love it. Described as being emotionally impactful, unapologetically dark, and painfully human, this book had all the trappings to become a new favourite of mine. And even with me hyping it up so much in my head, it still managed to completely blow all my expectations out of the water. Obsidian: Awakening is the slow-burn, character-driven, grimdark political fantasy of your dreams.
Set against the backdrop of a centuries-long war between a nomadic race of warring desert clans and the covetous empire that is trying to subjugate them, we follow seven people, on both sides of the conflict, who have been dealt a bad hand by Fate.
The power to change the course of history rests in their hands, whether they know it or not, and now they are forced to choose between their duty/destiny and their personal desires. What follows is a soul-stirring and unforgiving tale of survival, humanity, destiny, duty, loyalty, sacrifice and love.
The opening chapter of this book honestly could not have been stronger in my opinion. It wastes no time on slow or pretty introductions, but instead just drops you straight into the chaos and trauma. It’s visceral and unflinching in its brutality, and that beautifully sets the tone for the rest of the story.
“But the gods don’t always listen, and life will take what it wants from you, even if you plead and scream.”
At first you might feel a bit overwhelmed by the unfamiliar terms and names, but I personally really liked the ‘no hand holding’ approach here. Entering this world felt similar to travelling to a new country and being faced with a completely different culture, in the sense that it was overwhelming in the best way possible. That feeling of being slightly lost yet also utterly fascinated and intrigued immediately hooked me into the story, and I was fully immersed the entire way through.
While there is not much magic in this world aside from an oracle character sharing prophecies, this story somehow still felt utterly magical and entrancing because of how beautifully the world is brought to life through the evocative and vivid descriptions. The middle-eastern inspired setting is so incredibly atmospheric and lush, and I loved how this rich world with its diverse cultures, complex history, and tense political landscape naturally unfolded as the story progressed.
Though, as much as I adored the magnificent world building, it was really the phenomenal character work that quickly became my favourite aspect of this book. At first I was worried that following such a large cast of characters would prevent me from getting emotionally invested, but the opposite couldn’t be more true. At one point or another, I found myself rooting for each of these seven main characters, even against my own will and better judgement at times.
I feel like it has become rather popular these days, especially in grimdark fantasy, to describe characters as morally grey, but I honestly feel like describing these characters in that manner would be doing them a disservice. They are not morally grey, they are just painfully and realistically human. And we all know that humans are often not logical and that they sometimes let their complex and messy emotions get the better of them, which is exactly what makes their journeys so unpredictable and compelling to follow.
“Everyone broke, eventually, one way or another. Some broke into weapons, others into pieces. Some lived, some took another life, some died bringing to life monsters and beasts.”
I really liked how most of these characters are either directly related or know of each other, which made it super interesting to explore and compare how they view and present themselves versus how they are perceived by the other characters.
The character dynamics are so complicated and I was especially impressed with the nuanced depiction of familial and romantic bonds in this story. We get to explore both the most tender, innocent and passionate expressions of love, while simultaneously being confronted with the most ugly, toxic and unhealthy forms of it.
Some of the character interactions had my heart rate spiking to unhealthy levels and I was completely gripped by the insanely dangerous games that they are all playing with each other. The tension, both on a grand political scale and on an intimate personal scale, is simply sharper than a knife and left me completely breathless at times, which made this an exhausting reading experience in the best way possible.
“You are an extension of me.”
Also, I absolutely adored that even though this story is set in a deeply patriarchal world, we still follow some incredibly strong female characters who are true forces to be reckoned with. And not even in the sense that they are all physically strong warrior women, but more in the sense that they are resilient, defiant, cunning and also not afraid to be dangerously seductive when they need to be.
And on top of that, there is also some casual and quiet representation of queer love that I was not expecting, but pleasantly surprised by. Their sexuality is never a point of contention in the story and also doesn’t become their entire personality, which I found made that representation feel so authentic and refreshing.
““There are things you cannot have in this world, and my heart is among them.” She spelled the words, carving them into his memory, into hers. “It’s beating to see you die, never for you to claim.””
All that said, this book also does not shy away from showing the darkest depths of human depravity, which includes a lot of vivid descriptions of brutal sexual violence against women. At first I was quite put-off by some of the disturbing on-page savagery, but then in hindsight I slowly found myself appreciating some of those events more as I saw how they continued to have a long-lasting impact on the characters and realised how pivotal they were to their personal journeys. Every single scene in this book carries weight and nothing is in here for shock-value, which is exactly what makes this story so engrossing, emotionally impactful, and ultimately just unputdownable.
Now, as this is the first instalment in an epic fantasy series, I do have to say that there is a lot of slow set-up, and especially the first half of the book requires a lot of trust and patience from the reader. However, that does not mean that the story is boring. I personally really loved getting the time to get familiarised with the world and characters before everything went to utter shit, because that made all the twists and turns later on hit all the harder. And there were even some chapters that initially didn’t fully capture my interest, but then became some of my favourites in hindsight as they gained more significance with new reveals.
I honestly just really love and appreciate that the author didn’t choose to write this story in the most conventional or crowd pleasing way, but instead allowed it to be told exactly as it needs to be. The storytelling is impressively bold, unconventional and intricate, which is exactly what makes this book stand out from the crowd.
And all the slower build up is already proving to be so worth it by the end of this book, so I can only imagine how rewarding and impactful the final end result will be.
“He realized then that even after all this time, he was always looking for something, always trying to survive to reach somewhere. A place, perhaps, where there would be no more need or desire to run.”
All in all, I am truly blown away by this story and I have a feeling it will linger on in my mind for a very long time. I am not kidding when I say that I read the final 300 pages of this book in one day, because it was simply that compelling to me.
Obsidian: Awakening is a relentless story of endurance that tackles heavy real-world topics in a brutally honest way, while also being utterly transportive and serving as a safe haven for broken souls who seek refuge from the real world.
If you are looking for a dark and slow-burn grimdark fantasy with a lush desert setting, rich world building, complex characters that creep under your skin, intricate political scheming, soul-stirring prose, and all the emotional destruction, then I can’t recommend this book highly enough.