Sakkad has been embroiled in a bitter war for years. Sakkadian warriors, Taz and Hiro, see a chance to bring the bloodshed to an end and do not hesitate to sacrifice themselves in order to end the fighting. With both men in total accord on giving their all, Taz and Hiro carry out their task and perish.
They learn, however, that death is not the end. Taz and Hiro awaken in a place best described as between. Here, the pair meets a Judge–a being who is neither god nor demon, but rather is responsible for maintaining the balance between planes of existence. The Judge deems the sacrifice Taz and Hiro made a mistake, a squandering of the gift of life. For this, the warriors are punished. One is sent back to live among the mortals and the other transfigures into a Guardian, one who stays in the dark “in between” to watch over his human counterpart. The Guardian has limited means to keep the other safe and communication between Guardian and human is extremely minimal. These roles will switch upon the death of the human and continue until the end of time…unless Taz and Hiro manage to time the role swapping such that Guardian and human meet before the human takes his last breath.
For centuries, Taz and Hiro flipflop between worlds. Hiro manages to find a modicum of comfort, acting on his sincere desire to do good in whatever time period he occupies. Taz, on the other hand, grows increasingly focused on finding a way to meet Hiro at the moment of Hiro’s death and so finally end their interminable separation. When a man discovers the existence of the Guardians, his actions kick off a wild gambit that will either release Hiro and Taz from purgatory or damn them forever.
This, in a nutshell, is the entire scope of the story. It is told in first person from Taz’s perspective, which I think is an interesting choice given the two men seemed to share equally in their decision to sacrifice themselves originally, as well as equally sharing the burden of being reborn in the mortal plane/serving as Guardian. The packaging of the relationship between Taz and Hiro was somewhat ambiguous. Given that we first encounter them after they have died (with a brief summary of how they perished), the reader is immediately presented with Hiro and Taz as a pair of warriors and their behavior reminds me a bit more of a hierarchical relationship you might see between a leader and one of those under his command. That is, both men are more focused on rehashing HOW and WHY they died, and why they are being punished for effectively ending the war in their homeland, rather than spending a few desperate moments reaffirming any romantic connection. In fact, the most overtly “romantic” thing in the book is arguably the mutual statements of “I love you” when Taz and Hiro are facing another situation where they seem to have to sacrifice themselves (again) for the greater good (thus possibly angering the Judges again for…a repeat offence!)
Regardless of the exact nature of Taz and Hiro’s relationship, the story conveys the depths to which the two men are committed to each other. One of the best moments was when the two had been repeating this cycle of human/Guardian for several lifetimes so far and Taz fears that Hiro had grown jaded over their miserable (and separate) realities and seemingly chooses to ignore Taz. Part of this is facilitated by the fact that there is very little contact possible between them when they occupy different planes of existence, and it is actually Hiro who discovers a way to sort of bridge the gap.
As far as world building goes, there is a lot of consistency in the descriptions of how much Guardians can, well, guard the human counterpart. Direct interference is often met with excruciating pain for the Guardian, while the human is usually only able to detect visual stimulus like the environment growing lighter (indicating safety) or growing darker (indicating danger). Give the structure of the book, whatever snippets of human lives we see from Taz’s perspective are always at interesting/crucial moments for the plot. I understand this focus on the “ah-hah” moments or big discoveries is necessary when covering such a large period of time. However, I did find myself wondering about the length of these lifetimes. It was clearly established that Taz and Hiro would have to live a full life (no suicides)…but it was unclear at what point these lives would begin. I did not get the impression they were reborn as infants, but rather adults…? Despite not being critical to the plot or how the Judges make these Guardian/human pairings operate, to me, the apparent lack of details about the start of the new human life felt glaring in its absence.
Also, the limiting of the narration to Taz’s point of view and to major events made me feel like some character depth is sacrificed in order to convey a greater sense of breadth. For example, my only real impression of Hiro is that over his multiple lifetimes, he is invariably drawn to military type occupations where he can both lead and work for the greater good. By comparison, Taz seems to focus less on the greater good (this becomes a minor point of contention between the two) and more interested in resolving their situation. In effect, I didn’t have a very strong sense of our MCs beyond “Hiro is a leader type and will put others best interests ahead of his own” and “Taz goes along with that, but also watches out for himself/those close to him.” That said, for such a short piece, I think this was a good way to handle the characters. And by focusing so much on what Taz and Hiro experience at key moments really allowed me to get into the concept of lovers (or whatever) torn apart.
Overall, this feels a bit like a summary for an epic work (say a multiple book series condensed into a novella). There seems to be a richness in the world building and hidden depth/potential with the characters, but the overall story is feels very plot driven. Our two main characters feel sort of stripped down to their strongest characteristics, which work wonderfully well with their setting/situation. Although Taz and Hiro’s specific relationship is left somewhat ambiguous, I liked the flexibility to read both romantic and platonic love into the words on the page. All in all, this is a great story for people who enjoy lovers (or whatever)-reunited type stories or readers who are just too busy to invest a lot of time in reading multi-book series, but still crave the greadeur and mystique offered by such epic stories.