Tahki is a spoiled young prince who dreams not of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a diplomat and politician, but of following his mother’s path and creating wonders, bringing life to castles and cathedrals, bridges, aqueducts, and other and marvels of modern architecture. After Tahki accidentally destroys their temple — he hadn’t taken the weight of water into account — Tahki’s father forbids him to build anything again. He’s not even allowed to keep his tools, his studies, anything at all to do with architecture. If it weren’t for his twin, Sjornjia, even his favorite drawings would have been tossed into the rubbish.
Desperate to prove himself, Tahki decides to run away and enter the fair held in Vatolokit, the capital city of a rival kingdom known for it’s innovation and marvelous inventions. Their queen, Genevi, holds the fair to showcase the best and brightest of the kingdom (and to recruit the truly brilliant). All he has to do is forge some documents, escape from the palace without his father knowing, cross the border, and win the competition! Once he has the world’s recognition his father will be certain to forgive him and admit he was wrong and that Tahki is a brilliant architect.
Unfortunately, things don’t quite go to plan. Dispirited, Tahki flees the hall only to be tracked down a judge who offers him a chance to redeem himself. To show that his brilliant ideas are more than just marks on paper. She offers him a job that he, of course, accepts, even though he has no idea what it is, where it is, or what he’s expected to do.
Once he sees the Castle of Glass, though, Tahki is unable to look away. Prince Dyraien wants to leave a monument to his people by turning the Castle into a weapon that will defend them against invaders and remind them of the great works he and his mother have done. He’s charming, as princes ought to be, friendly, and welcoming. Tahki is quickly won over and promises to do everything he can to make Dyraien’s vision come to life. Unfortunately, not only does Tahki struggle to design anything, but his own nightmares are stalking him through the darkened, obsidian halls of the castle. Floods of dark water, a watchful presence, follows him and at night a giant cat that hunts him in the dark.
And then there’s Rye, Dyraien’s dearest friend and Tahki’s most hated rival (even if the rivalry is all in Tahki’s head). Rye doesn’t seem to like Tahki’s designs, has the prince’s favor, and even designed the marvelous castle itself. And yet, when Tahki needs help, it’s Rye who’s there for him. Soon it’s more than a rivalry, even if Tahki doesn’t quite know what to call it. But the castle, the shadowy cat, still haunt his waking dreams… until they’re not. Until they are actively trying to kill him. Tahki needs Rye’s help more than ever as everything he thought he knew turns out to be wrong and the voices of the dead tell him that Tahki needs to destroy the Castle of Glass before it destroys him!
Tahki is a surprisingly sensitive, oblivious young man (having turned 18 only a few months ago). He and his brother lost their mother at an early age when their castle went up in flames and all Tahki has left of her is the pencil she designed and created. Feeling responsible — her last act was to throw Tahki to safety rather than to save herself — he is determined to live the life she ought to have had, to show the world her amazing spirit. All the brilliance he has is a reflection of her light and he refuses to let it go out. He’s unable to articulate this burning need and ends up hiding himself away from his father, forsaking any chance at friends or love in order to pursue his dreams of being an architect. It’s only his twin who can get through to him and only his twin he lets get close to him.
Rye is the first person Tahki has ever met who can understand his dreams. Rye looked at Tahki’s drawings and understood what he was attempting and was able to see the flaws and problems. It eats at Tahki’s pride and ego, but Tahki isn’t the sort to hold grudges. Especially since looking at Rye makes him aware of certain feelings he’d never bothered with before. It’s not that he has been unaware of his interest in other young men, but he’d always been too busy for them. Rye isn’t someone trying to woo a prince; Rye doesn’t know who he is since Tahki had to lie about much of his past in order to enter the fair. He wants Rye to like him almost as much as he wants to impress the other man.
Rye grew up on the streets. Abandoned by his sister and mother at a young age, he had a difficult time until he was rescued by Dyraien. The two of them are almost as close as brothers, and Rye would do anything for the prince. He’s more Tahki’s babysitter and minder at the beginning of the story, trying to keep him focused and on track while keeping him from annoying Dyraien too much. It isn’t until Tahki reaches out to him — not as a servant needing food, and not as an academic needing encouragement — as a protector and friend that Rye begins to take a personal interest in Tahki.
Left to Rye the relationship might never have happened; it would have stayed a friendship that could turn into something more, but when they do get a chance to finally have that talk it becomes clear that Tahki wants Rye. Learning about Rye’s past only makes him feel empathy for the young boy Rye was without lessening his admiration or interest in the man Rye is now, and it causes Tahki to tell Rye everything. To tell him about his own past, his mother and father, his twin, and even his visions of the giant cat and the dark walls of water.
Together they both have to learn to trust another person, to reach past self-interest and self involvement on Tahki’s part and the tall, thick walls of self-preservation on Rye’s. If it weren’t for that trust, Rye might not have been able to look past Dyraien’s friendship to see what was truly going on with the prince and his desire for a giant, castle-sized weapon. Without Tahki being Tahki — obliviously honest, naive, utterly devoted to those he loves — Rye might have been able to doubt that a foreigner who snuck into the neighboring kingdom with forged documents might have ulterior motives for cozening up to the Queen and Prince.
This book read a little young adult, to me. Part of that is due to the youth of the main characters, and Tahki’s story really is one of personal growth alongside adventure. He goes from being a spoiled brat to being a stronger, slightly less oblivious version of who he will one day be. I enjoyed watching him grow and I appreciated that with each step Tahki took, the realizations and understandings about himself, Rye, and the prince were natural and realistic. I never once felt the author’s hand nudging him along; each trip and stumble was completely Tahki, and I loved reading his interactions with both Rye and Dyraien, able to see the shape of the story while Tahki remained stumbling in the dark.
There’s a lot of world building in this story, but Tahki is willfully blind to anything that doesn’t interest him, so much so that you aren’t introduced to the necessary politics of the story until the last third or so. So many names tend to be very fantasy oriented — Ambrusthin Királye, Dhaulenians, Piscgiia, Vatolokít — and while they suit their purpose, they can be a bit overwhelming as most of them are gathered into a giant infodump. Much of the more fantasy and fanastic elements enter the story deep in the second half, giving you ample opportunity to get to know (and occasionally laugh at) Tahki before you’re thrown into politics and history.
I really enjoyed this story. Tahki is a well-written character with all the charm of a puppy or kitten learning to play. He’s earnest, good spirited, and fecklessly charming. I will be keeping an eye on this author for any future works, and selfishly hope there’s another book in Tahki and Rye’s future.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.