“I am what the Emperor made me. Monster.”
What actions shape a person? Alters the trajectory of their life? For Calidan and Cassius, a night of fire and frenzy puts them on a journey of survival. Of loss.
They’ve seen the darkest that the night has to offer and, with the help of a creature beyond their understanding, they strive to find their way in a new world, desperate to gain the strength needed to fulfill their mission. A strength that the Emperor will willingly provide.
But at what cost?
A lot of the world building revolves around the Imperator training. The sheer difficulty of the training would be hard to describe, and be a huge spoiler. Needless to say, it involves a varied cast of characters, learning the skills it takes to be and Imperator, including statecraft, combat training, diplomacy, assassination, and the basics of magic. They even take a field exercise to mysterious valley which has killed all who have entered it. The students and their Imperator instructor do enter, and discover the lost history of their world, which I can’t reveal due to spoilers. They also discover the truth of the worlds magic, all in an exciting climactic battle. This area shows that the world, and being like the Emperor, are not what they would appear to be at a casual glance. The mysteries will surprise the reader as they are revealed, but definitely in a good way.
The story uses flashbacks to form the foundation for the current narrative, as we start and continue the story throughout with Callidan and Cassius on various tasks as full fledged, experienced Imperators. This includes trying to track down the demon and his worshippers that slaughtered their village inhabitants. You also see that Cassius is bonded with a creature from the depths of time, making him a match for anything on the world, if also making him frightening in the extreme. This leaves us waiting for the next book for the story to continue.
I am a huge fan of Callidan and Cassius. They play very well off each other, and are hugely different from teens to adult. You can tell life has really weathered them. They are just so well drawn out, and you are really able to get inside their heads. The secondary characters are all equally well drawn out, given three dimensions, with realistic motivations and consistent actions. The format of shifting to flashbacks doesn’t work for all authors, but this author does it better than any writer I have ever read. It is done so well, it never feels jarring, and is used with great effect to foreshadow current events. The plotting is fast paced, and definitely qualifies as grimdark for those looking for genre labels, although there is a generous helping of humor to help offset the grim. The action scenes are so well described you would swear you can feel the swish of the blade, the bite of the edge. From the smallest duel to the biggest battle, you feel as though you are right in the middle of the action, blade in hand. You can’t ask for much more in a fantasy tale.
The author self narrates. This is often a hit or miss proposition, but in this case, it’s a definite hit. He really brings each character to life, injecting separate personalities into each. He has an excellent touch in injecting the right amount of emotion into each scene. He really gets a variety of accents and inflections to differentiate the characters. His narrative pacing is excellent, and you never feel the narration slow down into any sort of monotone.
All told, an excellent effort, one which I heartily recommend. As I’ve said, I rate this up there with Nicholas Eames Kings of the Wyld and Ed McDonald’s Blackwing as my top fantasy reads/listens of 2018. Do yourself a favor and get a copy.
Rating 10/10 Stars
Top 5 book of 2018