Stars: 3 out of 5
I have mixed feelings about this book. There are things that I absolutely loved, and there are aspects that left me cold or that I found rather underwhelming. However, nothing made me mad or made me hate the book, hence the middle of the road, perfectly serviceable 3 stars rating.
The world Tasha Suri created is fascinating and complex. I liked the different religions and customs. Some are truly monstrous though. The yaksa in particular are absolutely fascinating. What were they, really? Where did they go? Are they really gone for good or, as Pryia’s encounter in the deathless waters suggests, they still exist somewhere and are ready to come back. And what is that corruption that is killing crops and people and spreading to the rest of the kingdom? I definitely want to know more about that, because to me, it’s more interesting than the intrigues and politicking of men.
My biggest complaint is that this book is way too long. I understand that as the first book in a series it has the unthankful job of setting up the world and explaining the lore, but this exposition bogs down the story something bad, especially in the first almost half of the book. We spend so much time in the beginning setting up the characters and explaining their pasts, that it gets very boring. Nothing happens. Everyone just spins their wheels for half a book. I even considered DNFing this around 45%.
I’m glad I didn’t though, because the story finally picks up in the second half of the book and moves at a pretty good clip. Things start happening, battles are fought and lost (or won), and the story is set up nicely for the next book in the series. I can’t help but think that this book would have been so much better if the beginning moved slightly faster as well.
Another issue I have with this story is that out of the main protagonists, Malini seems the weakest. She spends about 60% of the story imprisoned, drugged, and basically helpless. Not an agent of her own story, but somebody that the events just happen to. A passive observer, so to say. Pryia, and Ashok, and everyone else are acting and reacting to what’s happening, making plans and fighting their own battles. And Malini… Malini sleeps in a drugged sleep or is having withdrawals from that drug later on.
The problem that causes is the credibility of the character. Rao seems to admire her a lot. We are told that she single-handedly orchestrated a coup against her brother the Emperor. We are told that she is cunning, educated, and very smart… Yet we see none of that until very late in the book. So instead of being a strong and capable person, Malini comes across as a damsel in distress. That is not a trope I particularly like.
She became a more interesting character later in the book when she was allowed to actually act and react, so I have hopes that she will get more page time and better character development in the next book.
As it stands, I am on the fence whether I want to pick up the next book in the series or not. I might give it a try to see if the pacing issues have been fixed, and if we learn more about the yaksa.
PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.