“Impeccably written, immaculately illustrated, thought-provoking, thrilling, Obsidian: Awakening is a feast for the senses.”
“Obsidian: Awakening” by author Sienna Frost was a book I kept hearing about via social media circles as having all the main elements in a fantasy novel I crave: engaging characters, captivating writing, compelling themes. So, after salivating over the gorgeous cover, pressing “buy” was not a difficult decision. I’m so glad I did! It was an incredible book!
In the opening of the book, the dangerous prince and heir to the Salar of Rasharwi, who has just been victorious in battle over some of his enemies, intervenes before a Bharavi woman can be ravished by one of his generals. The prince demands the woman, named Zahara, a proud tribal member of the fierce and nomadic Kha’gans, reveal the well-guarded secret location of Citara, a coveted stronghold, and threatens that he will give her over to all of his soldiers to be brutally raped and killed if she does not comply. But the woman refuses. The prince is impressed by the woman’s bravery and intellect, and decides to make her one of his wives, against the woman’s will. She vows revenge – she will do what she has to do, but one day vows to see the Prince, who later becomes the Salar, dead.
Zahara goes on to become the favourite wife of the Salar, and the one who will never capitulate to him, since he has murdered her whole family. She also bears the Salar a favoured son, Lasura, who must fight for dominance and his very life among his many half-brothers from various other wives of the Salar.
Meanwhile, Hasheem, an assassin, and former slave and prostitute, after a woman is found dead in his room, is ordered by his Machiavellian mentor and employer, Deo Di Amarra, to flee. Hasheem finds himself captured by the daughter of the fabled warlord, the Kha’a of Visarya. The daughter, Djari, ends up taking Hasheem into her service as her sworn protector. Djari’s powerful brother, Nazir, who is a seer, has his doubts about his sister’s new protector, and how close their relationship is becoming. But Nazir is hiding secrets of his own, and his dalliance with a sworn enemy could also have sweeping repercussions for his Kha’gan.
A covetous empire seeks to subjugate wandering desert clans, and all the aforementioned characters will have a role to play in what the bloody outcome is.
The characters felt so real to me: they truly leapt off the page, but that does not mean they will always be likeable, which is just fine with me!
The reader might find an absence of a true hero or heroine in this book. The highly flawed and complex characters peddle in revenge, treachery, naked ambition, lust, and their motivations are always complex, however surprisingly these motivations are not typically self-serving.
Each person has a unique and sometimes twisted code of honour, where they will gladly sacrifice themselves for a greater good, another person they care about, a larger group, or simply to accomplish their own personal mission. This makes for a fascinating read, where the characters are unpredictable and unceasing in what lengths they will go to in order to achieve their ends.
These characters are not just resolved – they are relentless, as implacable as the heat of the Black and White Desert that beats down upon them. Only death can destroy their determination.
Moreover, Frost adeptly gives us several main characters who are on opposite sides of a long and bitter conflict. Part of the author’s skill is that the reader may find themselves torn as to who they want to win, and who they want to live, despite the flaws of the primary characters. For survival for all will be impossible.
Frost uncompromisingly shows the reader the harsher side of human nature. Reader beware: this book is very dark, not light-hearted in the least. The novel delves into some challenging themes, and not while everything is depicted graphically or even depicted at all, they are referred to, and their implications and consequences are discussed.
These include but not limited to: torture, hatred, enslavement, prejudice, rape, murder, sexual abuse of children, forced prostitution, genocide. This is a brutal world being portrayed. That said, love, self-sacrifice, devotion, bravery, family, honour are also to be found within “Obsidian: Awakening”, and the book is not completely devoid of hope.
But perhaps the theme that gripped me the most was that of leadership. What leaders must do not only to maintain power, but to protect, shelter, clothe and feed, and inspire their people. How leaders must push their people to the edge of what they believe are their limitations, and then push some more, if need be, for the greater good.
I loved the sometimes completely amoral, scheming politics, reminiscent of my favourite fantasy books such as “A Song of Ice and Fire” by G.R.R. Martin. The rival tribes, the fight for supremacy, if not existence, the many nobles always seeking a way to best each other, the spying, subterfuge, and betrayals. If you like that sort of court intrigue in your fantasy, adding piquancy to the tale, this is your book.
Vivid, Middle-Eastern inspired worldbuilding, full of sand-blasted deserts, elegant cities, and feuding Kha’gans, I loved the customs, cultures, landscapes of the book. If I have a quibble here, it would be that a character list and maps would have been helpful to keep things sorted.
Frost’s prose is simply incredible, and had me yearning for more. Some books, one can lose oneself in the actual writing, not merely the story, and this was one of those books for me. The opening lines had me enraptured, and I knew right from there this book was going to be for me.
“One moonless night, under the star-stained, crushing sky of the desert, where the snow-capped peaks of the Vilarhiti drew and unconvincing line between the realms of gods and men, Fate brought together one man and one woman from opposite sides of the war, and bestowed upon them the first chance to bring peace to the peninsula. It was also on this night, in a tent of stumbling shadows and raining stars, when peace was offered, declined, and set on fire by the woman and the man, and the secret wager that began the greatest war between the Black and White Deserts was made.”
The book is not fast-paced. It takes its time, lovingly, to explore the characters and the story. That said, the action scenes were frenetic and very well-contrived. Combined with the tense political maneuvering and heady, passionate, love scenes, and simply fantastic writing, there’s plenty in the book to keep the pulse racing, even if the action is not non-stop.
Impeccably written, immaculately illustrated, thought-provoking, thrilling, Obsidian: Awakening is a feast for the senses. I urge you to buy it in physical form so that you can fully appreciate the beautiful cover and pictures to be found within the novel. A contender for my favourite book of the year, don’t miss this one!