Stars: 3 out of 5.
I loved the worldbuilding in this book. It’s different and interesting… and very confusing. The author drops us right into the world and doesn’t pause to explain anything, so in the beginning I was a little lost. I usually don’t mind that, because I like figuring things out and I assume that some explanation will be forthcoming eventually. I like when authors gradually introduce us to their worlds instead of doing a 10 page long infodump in the beginning.
Here, however, the explanation never came. I still don’t know what the Modes really are. Are they different worlds stitched together? Are they different versions of the same world from alternate realities? Are they the same world from different times? The author never explains.
We also don’t get any firm explanation on how the magic in this world works. Why did one Practitioner need a relative’s blood to open another dead practitioner’s vault when our protagonist was able to do that just by replicating that practitioners pattern? How is it that their clothes never change… yet that rules seems to go out of the window for the protagonist in the middle of the book?
See, when the rules of the world and of the magic are not fully defined and explained, the reader is left floundering, trying to understand what’s going on. And a lot of time I felt like things happened or the protagonists were able to do things not because those things were possible, but because the author wanted it to be so. Because it was convenient for the plot. I don’t mind suspending my disbelief and getting immersed in a fantastical world, but that world has to make sense. The characters have to live within the established rules or there has to be a valid explanation as to why those rules were broken.
That’s most infuriating about Fenra. A lot of times the author says that some things are just not possible or have never been accomplished… only for Fenra to go and do them a few pages later. It’s hinted a few times that she is much more powerful than she lets people know, but it is never explained why she chooses to do that. Why the secrecy? Why pretend to be less than you are? Why fake an infirmity? See, if she had some powerful enemies or needed to hide from something, that would make sense. But the author never mentions that. In fact, as far as the White Court is concerned, nobody gives a flying fig about Fenra. So why is she wearing a figurative mask?
We get more explanation about Arlyn, but even then there are still so many unanswered questions about what he can and cannot do. How did he end up in the farthest Mode? If he lost his “magic”, how comes he can still see the changes in Modes as they travel to the City? How did he suddenly become this renown furniture maker? Was that a hobby when he was a Practitioner?
The whole structure of the White Court is nebulous at best. We get no real explanation about its structure, hierarchy or anything else. We meet two apprentices and maybe 2-3 other masters, and lots of guards who are ordinary people. Even less is explained about the Red Court. That one doesn’t bring anything to the story at all. We are also told that there is tension in the City and that the common people don’t like the Practitioners, but we are not shown this. One little walk through the city and some unfriendly stares don’t show that dislike at all, at least to me. Also, no real explanation is given as to why they are suddenly disliked.
All in all, this was interesting enough for me to keep going, but it could have been so much better if the author had taken the time to set up and explain the rules of their world better before breaking them. And explain why they were breaking them. As it stands now, I don’t think I want to revisit this world again, even if there is a second book coming.
PS: I received an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.