Overview from www.bn.com: Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo’s eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo’s future.
When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo…
This book was certainly an experience. While the last book I read and review was short and to the point this one took forever to read. This is not a book you want to read when you are looking for something light and easy. Besides the sheer number of pages in it, there is also a map, which would have been helpful if I could have read it, and a list of all the dynasties involved in this fantasy world. (I decided right away that there was no way I was going to be able to memorize those.) The first time I saw those two things was when I knew it would be no light reading, especially if this author expected me to remember all those people. I couldn’t finished reading “The House Of The Seven Gables” by Nathaniel Hawthorn for the very same reason.
But no matter how intimidating this book seemed from the first, I am glad I kept reading anyway. (I nearly quit after that the initial stress I experienced and I still wish the publisher had found a way to make the map legible and to keep some of the words from running together.) It was worth the effort overall. As I said it is not light reading but if you are willing to invest some brain power and try to pay attention to who is who and what dynasty they are with it is an interesting tale.
The story first focuses in on the youngest son of the Khalakovo dynasty whose name is Nikandr. You can read more of the summary of the book in the previously pasted overview which I will try not to go into too much in this review. But it is necessary to tell you that in the beginning we discover that Nikandr is in the early stages of a disease that is referred to as “the wasting.” It is always fatal but Nikandr desperately tries to hide this from everyone around him, including his own family. He knows that to reveal it would be to cancel his family’s plans for his arranged marriage to a woman he can’t stand.
Now you might wonder why would Nikandr try so hard to preserve his impending marriage if he can’t stand his future bride. The answer is that his family has an arrangement with the bride’s family, who represent another dynasty in their world, and cancelling the wedding would mean that both the bride’s family and his family would lose out on everything promised to them from the other family.
It always seems to me that most fantasy authors use elements of our world to use in their invention of their fictional world and this book is no different. As you read, you will notice that many of the names of “the landed” as well as their language closely resemble the Russian language. And some of the other people’s and names also seemed to resemble many Arabic words that I know. That made the book more interesting to me and each time I came across a foreign word, I tried to figure out which language it most reminded me of.
Getting back to Nikandr, the wasting is not the only problem he faces even though it may be his most formidable one. Here are just a few of the issues he is up against: his mother can inhabit some of the birds on the island to watch what he does and even to speak to him, he will have to dispose of his Aramahn mistress who he cannot ever hope to marry, he has some strange spirits that always seem to be after him, his “soul stone” has dimmed; and he experiences and inexplicable bond to an Aramahn boy with unusual powers.
After discovering the dimness of his soul stone, there is a great quote that I want to insert to show the great description that this author uses to show exactly how Nikandr felt after his father tells him to hide his stone instead of wearing it out in the open as he has always done.
“Nikandr left, feeling like a boy dismissed from dinner. There was sense in his father’s words, but when he tucked the pendant inside his shirt and felt the chain tickle his skin as it settled into place, the stone felt weighty, obscene, as if the sign of a coward had now been hung around his neck.” p. 36
It is so vivid that I can feel what Nikandr is feeling- both physically and emotionally. And what I really loved about it is how it reminds me of “The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge which is one of my favorite poems, as it also has great imagery.
As the story progresses we are also introduced to other characters who get nearly as much page time as Nikandr. First there is his lover, the Aramahn woman called Rehada. We see how she views the world and why she does what she does. We also come to know how she fools Nikandr and prevents him from seeing her true nature as well as her past. Only later does she realize how she has fooled herself.
Then there is Atiana Radieva who is Nikandr’s promised bride. We see her first mainly from Nikandr’s eyes. He knew her as a child and basically sees her the same way he did then- as sneaky girl who is so close to her two sisters that he has a hard time telling them apart. As the story progresses however, Atiana proves her worth to Nikandr and to nearly everyone else, exhibiting a strength of character few thought she had. For instance she is upset to learn that her real “value” to the Khalakovo family is not what she thought it was and she actual dares to say that to their “matra”- a kind of female head who has additional abilities that the family uses for its benefit. She starts says the first sentence in the following quote.
“‘The women of Vostroma are not accustomed to being treated like prized cattle.’
‘But you are in a prized position, Atiana Radieva. There are dozens of women who would gladly take your place.'” p. 115
In this instance, she eventually backs down but we find her becoming stronger throughout the story, surprising her family and Nikandr both.
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to go further into this story and all the great characters it has in it. Although there are tell-tale signs that a man wrote it, such as the fact that Rehada always seems to be losing her clothes, it is not your run of the mill fantasy novel. It should keep you entertained on many levels as long as you like fantasy and you don’t expect an easy read. On those conditions, I recommend you check it out though I must warn you some of the sexual encounters depicted in here are a little graphic.