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An undying king. A relic of rune-carved bronze and ivory flames. A war for powers only a god could fathom.

In the backdrop of a Renaissance-Italy inspired world, the women of two opposing noble houses employ archaeology to find powerful, dangerous artifacts.

One woman is a formidable magic user. The other relies on her considerable political connections and influence through her mother to achieve her ends. High stakes adventure ensues, ancient secrets are revealed, and both women discover their quest may be much more than they initially bargained for.

So begins “Shadows of Ivory”, Book One of “The Godforged Chronicles”, by T.L. Greylock and Bryce O’Connor. This book received a lot of acclaim as a finalist entry in the 2022 Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO 7).

First, I must point out that the cover of the novel is somewhat deceiving, in my opinion, of the book that I read. Based on the fearsome cover art, I was expecting to be immediately thrown into a world of dark sorcery, mayhem, quickly confronting demons, sorcerers, undead creatures, etc.

Not exactly. Instead, I read a book about largely enterprising archaeologists, court intrigue, romance, and complex family and interpersonal dynamics. Not exactly, but this did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel whatsoever.

This is definitely a character-driven book, and that’s just what I love.

Main characters Eska de Caraval and Manon Barca both come from money, and are noble born. However Barca’s house has fallen on hard times, while de Caraval’s house blooms at the height of its power. Barca’s magical abilities make her a source of distrust. A failed assassination attempt on de Caraval points toward Barca as the culprit, and it lands her and her brother in prison.

Meanwhile de Caraval navigates the courts of the aristocracy’s most influential elites, all the while single-mindedly focused on pushing her scientific research. Except for the distraction of lingering mutual feelings with a former lover, a suave and powerful military man, the clever and resourceful de Caraval lets nothing stand in her way, as she’s poised to take the reins of her family’s treasure hunting and shipping empire, and uncover ancient relics that will only enhance her riches.

The broken Barca, a ‘Carrier’ (magic-user) must resort to desperate means to restore her family’s fortune, earn her freedom, including selling her magical abilities. But the determined Barca, an experienced mercenary archaeologist, will not rest until she’s redeemed her family’s glory, and has no intention of letting de Caraval get in the way.

Both women covet bronze discs, secured inside containers belonging to a long-dead line of monarchs. Their mission to recover these discs will bring their rivalry down interesting and surprising paths.

While the secondary characters – especially for me the scholar Albus, who also has a POV in the narrative – were excellent, the two primary players truly dominated the action, and were exceptionally well-written. I preferred Barca, of course, because I love my more morally uncertain, flawed, even damaged characters, and the drug-addicted, downtrodden, mercurial, but fierce and ultimately caring Barca was definitely my speed.

De Caraval is more invulnerable (except when it comes to her romantic interest), more utterly confident and self-assured. Still, she is fascinating, intellectual, and knows how to use her physical beauty, charm, poise, and impeccable family name to get what she wants. Yet she’s also a tireless worker, who’s more than willing, if required, to get her own hands dirty to attain her goals, rather than only let her subordinates do all the difficult work, despite her aristocratic upbringing.

The worldbuilding is fantastic, very immersive, in “Shadows of Ivory”. Tons of history, involving feudal nation-states, puissant nobles and panderers, tense political opposition, grand courts of decadence, all of it incredibly well laid out. I loved the magic system in the book, where the ‘carriers’ meld elemental magic or use blood, or metallurgy, and the explanation of potential consequences of magic use, such as carrier fever.

The pace was great, and the action sequences, though infrequent, were explosive, and boy, that diving scene! Wow! Tense, gripping, and unputdownable.

Truly enjoyed the intelligent, smooth, subtle, and highly digestible prose in this book. There were some very elegant passages, and the dialogue was tight, terse, and kept the tension high, and the flow of the book moved along quite well.

The themes in “Shadows of Ivory”, such as addiction, revenge, retribution, shame, prejudice (especially against the carriers), elitism, love, found family, were all compelling.

What looks like the start of a highly intriguing series, “Shadows of Ivory” was well worth the read, and no doubt deserving of the accolades and hype that came with reaching the finals of SPFBO7!

Five stars!

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