Real talk: this has been on my TBR since… pretty much since it was released. It got back burnered a little bit as I waded through my admittedly jenga-like tower of review requests, and then SPFBO came along and was like hey, read this. Well okay SPFBO, whatever you say.
War built the Kisian Empire and war will tear it down. And as an empire falls, three warriors rise.
Caught in a foreign war, Captain Rah e’Torin and his exiled warriors will have to fight or die. Their honour code is all they have left until orders from within stress them to breaking point, and the very bonds that hold them together will be ripped apart.
Cassandra wants the voice in her head to go away. Willing to do anything for peace, the ageing whore takes an assassination contract that promises answers, only the true price may be everyone and everything she knows.
A prisoner in her own castle, Princess Miko doesn’t dream of freedom but of the power to fight for her empire. As the daughter of a traitor the path to redemption could as easily tear it, and her family, asunder.
As an empire dies they will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.
The world does not wait. People do not wait. Nothing is fair. Some people fight all their lives only to die choking on a bean.
This story follows three primary characters, with each telling their story in the first person.
We start out with Rah e’Torin, who is the commander of a group of nomadic horse riding warriors from a people known as the Levanti. Due to something that Rah did, his group has been exiled from their homeland, and must leave for a year before they can be welcomed back into the herd of his people. As they travel into the land of Chiltae, they get captured by… well Chiltaeans, and more or less forced into slavery to fight for Chiltae in their war against Kisia.
Cassandra is a Chiltean assassin and prostitute (‘whoreassin’) who is hired to kill an important man on his way from Chiltae to Kisia. Cassandra suffers an odd malady (though malady is a debatable term here), wherein she is possessed by some sort of being that we only know as ‘She’ or ‘Her’, which manifests as a voice in her head who can sometimes take over her body. She is on her way with her entourage of very important people when some inevitable shenanigans go down. Of course they do!
Miko Ts’ai is the princess of Kisia, though the current Emperor is not her real father, nobody really knows that, and since her mother is the Empress, she is the princess. Her twin brother, Tanaka, is the prince and heir to the throne. Kisia is currently at war with Chiltae, and so both counties are planning to attempt some peace by marrying the son of the Hieromonk (something like the Pope) to Miko, the princess of Kisia, who is not at all excited for this.
I really, really enjoyed this one. I found myself really digging these characters, and rooting for them to win the day. Cassandra was easily my favorite character, as I found her fascinating to read about. I read on and on, wondering just what her deal was, and just what the voice in her head actually was. Another character I really ended up liking a lot was Leo Villius. I need to know the story there too!
Normally in books with multiple POVs, I will find myself sort of sighing inwardly when one person’s story switches to another person’s right when it was getting excited, but I didn’t find that happening during this book at all, because each character’s story was interesting in their own ways, and so, I liked the structure of the book, and never found it boring or hard to pick back up.
The worldbuilding was really well done, and since these lands and their people are similar to lands and people within our own world, it was easy for me to envision. This story mostly takes place in or around Kisia, as all the characters are either there or headed there for some reason, whether it be assassination or conquest. Kisia is very much influenced by Japan, and since I had a mild interest in Japanese history when I was younger, I found it easy to imagine, and very captivating to read about. Adding Chiltaen culture, which felt very reminiscent of Renaissance Italy, and a group of nomadic horsemen (and women) and this book was a great melding of cultures to imagine.
The plot was intricate and full of all kinds of shenanigans and political intrigue, as one wonders how the three characters might come together, or how each of them might meet, or even seeing how each character’s point of view relates to another. The prose was lovely, and the book was very easy to read and flowed quite well. I easily picked it up and read for hours without really even noticing the passing of that much time. I love books that manage to make me lose track of time. 😀
There were plenty of twists and turns, and I had no idea what would happen. This book left me with so many questions, but not in a cliffhangery way. I’m not going to have too much trouble waiting for the next book in the series, but at the same time… questionnnnnsssss. Dat ending though. What?! What even is going to happen?!
All told, I really had a good time with this book, I would say 8.5/10 stars of fun with it (reminder: this is my score, not Team Weatherwax’s score). There is definitely going to be some more of Devin Madson’s work in my future, because daaaaamn. It was like… okay, it was kind of like an Akira Kurosawa film with Assassin’s Creed II and some badass horsemen mixed in. Does this not sound awesome? Yes it does! So go read it! GO!