“Perhaps it is better to die for something than to live for nothing. ”
Jumping into the Blind Age series completely blind was just about the best decision I could ever have made. Mixing all the best elements of fantasy, mystery, horror, and steampunk, The First Rule is a dark and entrancing genre-blendy gem of a book that completely surprised me and kept me on my toes the entire way through.
This is the story of Venalia, a newly ordained priestess of knowledge and secrets, and Temple, a half-giant seer who has just prophesied the priestess’ impending demise. A mysterious horror from below is coming for them, people are going missing, and now Venalia’s oaths give her no other option than to protect the village that has shunned her all her life. As The First Rule says: “A Priestess must never, under any circumstances, give up on her people.”, and that includes when faced with certain death. Together, these two must determine what their true purpose in life is, or else everyone’s doom will be certain.
“What path? Well. We aren’t so different to the forests, (…); we are not truly alive unless we’re growing.”
Right from the very first page, the author creates an enthralling air of mystery and intrigue that will keep you fully engaged from start to finish. The eerie horrors introduced in the first chapter immediately set the tone and add a continuous pulse-pounding sense of urgency to the story. This might be a very small-scope and intimate story, being set entirely in and around the little village of Llantry, but the stakes truly could not be higher.
Venalia’s inner turmoil especially takes centre stage, and I loved every single second of following her on this harrowing journey. The author has a true gift for writing raw and authentically messy human emotions, which makes all the complex interpersonal relationships shine and tug on your heartstrings in all the best ways.
Themes of redemption, fate, sacrifice, faith, courage, endurance, and, maybe surprisingly, the power of music are all seamlessly woven into the narrative, which gives this dark story so much heart.
“Music is a part of the soul. A part of creation that somehow contains all of creation.”
The world building is also just incredibly imaginative and immersive, with an unsettling Stranger Things-like mirror realm, a religion-based magic system that comes at a high cost, and extensive rich lore to completely lose yourself in. I absolutely loved exploring this intriguing world through the eyes of our two protagonists, as they both provide such a fresh perspective on all the mystifying events that are unfolding.
Hannah’s sharp prose also has a beautiful hypnotising quality to it, which only amplified all the heightened emotions and added a mesmerising fever dream-like vibe to the story that kept me fully entranced. I especially loved the eerie scenes in the Inverted World and moments of meditation/prayer to tap into the mystifying magic system, as those filled me with equal parts wonder and dread.
“Only when she is totally quiet and still can she feel her own soul, the silent watcher that resides in all mortals.”
The final resolution to the mystery plot did feel a bit rushed to me, but since I was mostly there for the characters’ personal journeys anyway, that didn’t end up hindering my enjoyment all too much. And with all the countless little teases to the wider world that were so tantalisingly dropped throughout this book, you better bet that I am coming back to explore this world further. This plot and mystery might feel quite self-contained, but I am just dying to see what these endearing characters are up to next.
This is the type of story that simply refuses to adhere to any genre boundaries and conventions, which makes it all the more exciting. If you like your fantasy to be bold, unconventional, mysterious, and intense, then you have come to the right place. The First Rule is a dark yet hopeful fantasy story unlike anything you’ve ever read before, I can’t recommend it highly enough!
Thank you to the author for providing me with a free ecopy in exhange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.