I’m going to go ahead and review these two novellas together, because they are a beautiful and wondrous pair indeed, and I can’t bear to separate them.
These came to my attention through my twitter feed (thanks to Tor for that <3), and once I saw them, I couldn’t resist, because… well, I mean look at them. Hrrng so pretty. I’ll admit that pretty covers are shinies that I can’t resist, and I am far more likely to read books with amazing covers like these…. I have no shame.
I’ll start here with The Black Tides of Heaven. They can technically be read in either order, but I feel, in retrospect, that this one should definitely go first, as it deals in an earlier timeframe of the same characters.
Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While his sister received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother’s Protectorate.
A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?
“The saying goes, ‘The black tides of heaven direct the courses of human lives.’ To which a wise teacher said, ‘But as with all waters, one can swim against the tide.'”
Guys. This is a beautifully told story, and I was sucked right in and gobbled it up in one go. It’s on the shorter side, obviously, as it is a novella, but it didn’t feel too short.
In this volume we have twins, Mokoya and Akeha. This world is unique in that everyone is born genderless, and chooses their own gender as they grow up. This can happen anytime in their lives, really, as young as three and as old as, well, seventeen or so for these two. In this case, Mokoya chooses to be female, and Akeha male. There is a lot of care that goes into the pronouns throughout this story, and even in a short time, you can see how Mokoya and Akeha become who they are, and how those pronouns begin to change as they as characters change.
This volume is told from the POV of Akeha, who I really liked as a character, right from the beginning. Mokoya is born a prophet, who sees the future in their dreams, and is thus treated as the more important of the twins, with Akeha always being second fiddle to Mokoya in their family’s eyes (despite the fact that their mother only had them to settle a blood debt). You can see how this grates on Akeha early on, but they would do anything to protect Mokoya nonetheless. Most of this is on their mother, the Protector of this land. Sort of the Empress, I think. That’s the vibe I got. A really important and powerful political figure in this world. She calls Akeha the ‘spare child’ and treats them otherwise as unimportant. Following the story from their adolescence into his adulthood and independence from his twin was riveting.
The world this takes place in is a rich one, with a really interesting form of magic that sometimes almost mirrors some of our most well loved technologies (telephones, video, photographs, et cetera) and some of our most terrifying (nuclear weapons). Of course, where there is magic in government, there is a faction of sort of anti-magic people, called Machinists, who rebel against the Protectorate and their Tensors (those who can use magic). While not exactly on opposite sides, Mokoya and Akeha are separated for years and years by this rebellion. This got legitimately heart wrenching at the end.
As I said, I couldn’t really read one without immediately reading the next, because they just pair so well, like the twins pair so well, so here’s the review of The Red Threads of Fortune.
Fallen prophet, master of the elements, and daughter of the supreme Protector, Sanao Mokoya has abandoned the life that once bound her. Once her visions shaped the lives of citizens across the land, but no matter what tragedy Mokoya foresaw, she could never reshape the future. Broken by the loss of her young daughter, she now hunts deadly, sky-obscuring naga in the harsh outer reaches of the kingdom with packs of dinosaurs at her side, far from everything she used to love.
On the trail of a massive naga that threatens the rebellious mining city of Bataanar, Mokoya meets the mysterious and alluring Rider. But all is not as it seems: the beast they both hunt harbors a secret that could ignite war throughout the Protectorate. As she is drawn into a conspiracy of magic and betrayal, Mokoya must come to terms with her extraordinary and dangerous gifts, or risk losing the little she has left to hold dear.
Know the ways of the five natures, and you will know the ways of the world. For the lines and knots of the Slack are the lines and knots of the world, and all that is shaped is shaped through the twining of the red threads of fortune.
I took this one a bit slower, as it didn’t capture me quite as easily as the first did. This volume takes place about 40 years after the first (hence why I recommend reading The Black Tides of Heaven first) and follows Mokoya’s story starting about 4 years after the first novella.
Mokoya has fled from the capital, her husband, and everything else in her life following the loss of her daughter. Her gift for prophecy is gone as well, so instead of seeing the future, she sees the past instead, and the past usually haunts her on some level. She’s kind of a wreck. Reckless, moody, and rather less than her normal self. These days, she’s out in the rebel mining city of Bataanar hunting naga with a crew of misfits and her trusty mount Phoenix the raptor (she. rides. dinosaurs.), who is herself… more than the sum of her parts.
On a hunt one day, she meets a very interesting individual named Rider, who rides a tame naga and can use the world’s Tensor magic to fold space and more or less teleport. Rider is, as the blurb suggests, quite alluring, and Mokoya finds herself enamored with them and subsequently begins a romance with them (which is fine with her husband, because polyamory seems to be pretty normal, perhaps even encouraged in this world). I thought it was rather sweet, how they come to spend the night together the first time. Their relationship had plenty of ups and downs and my heartstrings were suitably jostled at times.
The Protectorate has been doing some experimentation on nagas, hoping to recreate something that Mokoya herself did, and instead of recreating Mokoya’s results, they have created a monster. Well, I mean nagas are already kind of monsters, but this particular one is both huge, angry, and threatening to attack Bataanar, which is the secret homebase of the Machinists.
There’s a bit of a mystery behind this naga, Rider’s role in the whole situation, and the grieving next of kin of the recently deceased local authority. This is a mystery that Mokoya is going to get to the bottom of!
This novella takes place over a much smaller timeframe than the previous, but it still tells a deep story. This is a story about Mokoya’s struggle with coping with her grief, and healing from it. I can say that while I didn’t come to like this volume as much as I did the first, I thought it was a fantastically told story with some pretty amazing worldbuilding. It was a wonderful couple of hours!
All told, I liked it a lot. I liked both of them quite a lot. I’m excited to see where this story goes next year!