Story Rating: 3.5 stars
Audio Rating: 3.25 stars
Narrator: Erik Bloomquist
Length: 9 hours, 16 minutes
Min is a thief. A good one. If only he were better at being an uncle. His nephew, Harry, has gotten himself into a bit of trouble with a girl. Well, a lot of trouble, if truth be told. Her family, the Sabadines, are one of the most powerful families in the city, and a no-name apprentice thief climbing into the bedroom of one of their daughters? Yeah, that … didn’t go over so well.
However, there’s a faint hope hanging at the end of the rope. The Sabadine family seems to be short one son — well, grandson — and Min is given a chance to save Harry’s life. Go to Anhaga, pick up the young man, and bring him back alive. To ensure Min does as he’s told, Harry is given a curse mark that will kill him painfully enough if Min changes his mind.
With an angry and powerful family on one side and the deadly fae stalking the world on the other, all Min can see is the evil that surrounds him. That isn’t helped when it turns out the boy he’s bringing back into the loving arms of his family just so happens to be a necromancer. Of all the mages, witches, and sorcerers in the world, Min hates necromancers the most. But something in Kazimir’s eyes, the hopelessness in them, the despair at the thought of being dragged home to marry his uncle, stirs something in Min’s heart.
But he has no choice. Not if he wants to save Harry. Right?
I picked up this audiobook as part of our Reading Challenge Month for TBR Pile Week. Normally I’d review the story first, and then the narration, but this is one of those instances in which the narration — by Erik Bloomquist — heavily encouraged my impression and rating of the story in question. Bloomquist has a nice voice and a drawling, sardonic delivery that almost worked with Min’s rather selfish and self-centered thoughts. But … only almost. There was the same amount of emotion in the delivery of a conversation between two characters, as the description of an alley or a fight scene.
So much of this book relies on metaphors, on languid and evocative descriptions of light, buildings, cities crouching like dogs baring their teeth, a village like a cluster of barnacles growing on a cliff, the quality of dust on the road or wind in the trees … and the delivery of those lines came off, at times, almost, well, snarky. Overall, the narration and the story just didn’t mesh well in mood or tone for me.
Min is a judgmental, biased, bigoted, and bitter man who snarks, snipes, and sneers his way through the book. Growing up in a brothel (as we’re told over and over and over and over again), he’s developed a thick skin and a certain cynicism regarding humanity in general. He hates magic users for using their power, especially on or against other people. He’s also an unreliable narrator at times, verging on the off-putting. He seems the sort of character who doesn’t care if you listen to his story. It feels like he is telling it for his own benefit and you’re just there as window dressing.
Kaz is a young man, 19 or so, who was sent away from his family to learn to use his powers. At the time, his family thought he was only going to be a gifted hedge witch. No one knew what he could really do. Kaz has been hiding away inside his mentor’s shop, living in isolation and fear — fear that his family will demand him back.
Min kidnaps Kaz, forcing him into an iron collar and shackles, and while he understands why Kaz might be sad about all this, that’s not going to stop Min from taking him home to be married to his uncle. His loyalty to Harry is admirable, and his treatment of Kaz is understandable. The boy is a job, he’s an object to be returned home. If he becomes a person, he becomes a victim.
And that’s part of my problem with the story, tone and delivery of the narration aside. The power imbalance between captor and captive is present, but never addressed. Kaz always feels like a belonging, an item, an object in Min’s mind. A lovely object, a helpless victim with lovely tears, something pretty and exotic and vulnerable … but he’s almost never Kaz. It doesn’t seem like Min sees him as a person, but as an idea. And when Kaz begs Min to sleep with him so that his first time — with his uncle — wont’ be rape, Min is all for it.
Because the story is told entirely from Min’s point of view, we never get to see what Kaz feels for this person, the first person he’s really seen and interacted with in 10 years. The person who shackles him in iron. The person who has the power to save him or condemn him. I’m asked to believe Kaz falls in love with Min and sure, I can see where the story is going. I just don’t buy it. I buy Min wanting to get laid, and wanting to fuck a pretty virgin before his wedding. I don’t buy Min falling in love with him because Min never showed any sign of it. Yes, guilt for what he did; yes, appreciation for Kaz’s body; yes, interest in getting back at the Sabadine’s. But love? I just didn’t see it.
It’s an interesting book with some creative world building. The writing is lovely, the pacing drifted for a bit, and I’m still not sure why the book is named after a city the characters only visit for a day (but it’s a lovely name), and overall this story came so close to working for me. I just never connected with Min, and never bought that he felt anything for Kaz beyond friendly indifference. Of course, I also never really bought that Kaz was in love with Min. Even the end, where Min does something no one else can do, it’s done because of Min’s own magical abilities rather than anything to do with trust or love. I regret to say it, but this is just, for me, a rare miss. It never fully landed on any one thing for me.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for TBR Pile Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of two great audiobook bundles from Tantor Audio (you can see the details and full event prize list here)! Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by NineStar Press: a Kindle Paperwhite loaded with 50 NineStar Press books! You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on TBR Pile Week here.