Destiny, fate, the inevitability of divine prophecy, all of these things can fool a man into thinking he has no choice, that his life’s path is bound into a set direction that he has no option but to walk. For Aleksi Drago, there is a choice. Down one path is love and pain and war and suffering. Down the other, a chance to change the world, or to fall into darkness.
Green eyes and a voice haunt Alexi’s dreams. Come North, they tell him, come North.
Bael, the youngest of his mother’s children, the most afraid and the most looked down upon — called toad, for all the hopping they make him do, for his cowardice, for the lowness of his station — dreams of a golden-haired man who will save him from his father’s cult, from his sister’s torment, from his grandmother’s prophecy.
Jonas is a Prince of Ilyar, a man who wears a different mask for each person in his life, hiding who and what he truly is. For him, Aleksi is is his other half, the missing piece of his soul.
To choose one is to deny the other. To save one is to to damn the other. No matter which path Aleksei takes, the world will forever be changed.
Bael is an interesting character. His father is a zealot to a dark god who lives in tents and temples far away from civilization, having brought his wife and followers to the brink of madness and despair. Bael wants to be loved by his father, wants to be as powerful as his father. He is constantly bullied and tormented by his older siblings for being timorous, and sees as his allies and protectors his mother and grandmother, though both of them are, in their own ways, just as powerless. When Bael’s sister gives him visions of pain and power, it’s his grandmother who offers comfort. If he can call for the golden-eyed hunter, Aleksei, the dark prophecy can be changed.
Jonas is a prince, raised in a world of honey and poison, politics and luxury. What he is, a powerful mage, must be hidden, as much as his intelligence, his suspicions, his true character, and his true ambitions. Clever and brilliant, Jonas has learned to keep the world at a distance, as any breath of his secret escaping could mean his death or his imprisonment. Even so, he calls to Aleksei, hoping that the other man will be the Knight to his Magus, his protector and guardian to help him in the uncertain days to come.
Aleksei is as aware of politics and religion as he is of the stars in the sky. They’re up there, out there, but he’s got a crop to bring in, animals to tend to, and a life to live. It’s a small life, on the farm, and far from his mother’s people and her family, but it’s what he and his father have. Even with the voices on the wind and the dreams of a green-eyed man, Aleksei would rather stay home. But destiny won’t allow him to refuse its call, and Aleksei is soon on a journey through time and trouble to find the man he’s meant to love, and the man he’s meant to save.
So, this is an epic fantasy with an emphasis on the epic. At nearly 700 pages, this book should feel long. Somehow, though, it avoids that. The author packs a hell of a lot of plot in the story, while keeping the pacing moving along briskly — sometimes too briskly — so that there’s never a lull in the action or the emotion. A great deal of attention has been given to the magic system, and I enjoy not having it spoon fed, but being asked to learn as I go along, to have to tease out meanings and judge some things through context and character reaction. I will say that the start is a bit choppy, and the breadcrumbs leading up to a few revelations feel a little obvious, but all in all, I really enjoyed this book and read it one long sitting.
I also really, really enjoyed Jonas — especially with other people’s reaction to him. You could see how he thought things were going to work, and that he just assumed things worked because he wanted them to until Aleksei read him for it:
You’re making this up as you go, Jonas. I’m not a fool. I understand that. But don’t be surprised when you can’t always write the rules the way you want them.
Not to say Jonas can’t give as good as he gets, especially when confronting his grandmother:
“You inherited your mother’s cruelty.”
“And my father’s sense of justice. Which do you fear more?”
This is a non-explicit romance, with a few kisses here and there and a brief comment from Aleksei so quick you might miss it, and the friendship is there, but again it’s more hinted at than showcased. With so much emphasis on the action — and this book is very action packed — the characters do get left a little in the dark. We get to see how amazing they are in combat, how powerful they are, but we don’t really get to see the main couple as a couple; I think they spend more of the story apart than they do together.
But that, all in all, is a very minor complaint. More of a comment, really. As the first book in a series, there’s a bit of a cliffhanger, but by that point there’s been so much story and so many characters and events happening that I don’t mind taking the break to catch my breath before the second book comes out. Which should be soon since it’s promised for fall 2020, and I fully intend to be reading it. If you’re into fantasy — with all its tropes, cliches, and fun — then you’ll enjoy this book.