Stars: 4.5 out of 5.
This is a fascinating book. It almost reads like a cross between a poem and a fevered dream, but in a good way. Rarely have I been so entranced by the world depicted in a book.
There are character driven books, there are story driven books, there are books that incorporate a bit of both. Then there are books that try to introduce us to a new world or concept more than they care about characters. I am not saying that this book is the later, because there is a solid detective story here, and the characters are engaging enough. But to me, the description of the world in which those characters live is the most important part here.
And that description is so well done! It permeates every page, weaving organically into the story, so that it never appears tedious. It creates an image of a fascinating world of arctic winds and white snow, of gray seas and red bones, of big white motes fluttering against buildings darkened by soot and landing on burning corpses. A world growing on the ruins of an older civilization, where a night can turn hollow, and an inverted moon would rise, and dead giants will stalk the shallow waters off shore. This is a harsh and unforgiving world, but it’s also very beautiful, in a cruel kind of way.
There are so many fascinating little details about the different religions and superstitions, about how different castes of people are living on Death City Island. The bone miners who wear red copper masks and white furs of a long dead animal, and risk their lives to mine the red bones of a giant who died off shore of the Death City. The merchant caste that wears silver masks and drapes themselves in layers of embroidered silks…
I liked Soldier Honnan Skyin and his relentless pursuit of a babe killer. Even when everyone told him to let it go. Even when a deadly epidemic was sweeping the island, killing thousands. Even when they ran out of pale boxes to burn the death at sea and had to resort to communal pyres in the middle of dead villages, Honnan still followed the clues he could find and stubbornly investigated this murder. And I’m really glad he did, because he brought to justice a monster worse than the black lung.
All in all, this is a successful introduction to a brand new world. Now I definitely want to read the first book in the Red Kingdom series. Because while this book is still part of that universe, Death City Island is at the very outskirt of the Red Kingdom, so the customs and traditions are slightly different and watered down. Some of the details Honnan mentions about mainland are rather intriguing.
PS: I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.