Rating: 5 stars
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Long ago, a small village had a tradition of sacrificing one of its own to the Harvester, god of death. The age of the sacrifice was meant to guarantee that many years of peace—no war, no famine, no plague. When Azaiah was chosen, everyone remarked how well suited to the role he was. Even Azaiah himself seemed completely at peace with his lot. When the time came, the rituals were performed, his throat was slit, and Azaiah was ready. But instead of taking up the scythe in service to death, he became death. For centuries, Azaiah has acted as the gentle, guiding hand to recently departed souls. Until one day, he encounters a soul that burns so brightly, he can’t help but be drawn to it…to Nyx.
Despite knowing full well the only reason he was adopted into the imperial family was to balance an unlucky number of princes, Nyx nevertheless has found a place where he can thrive. He also found companionship with his so-called “heart brother,” Tyr. They grew up together, serve the empire’s army together, and are as close as two brothers could possibly be. Closer, if rumors are to be believed. When Tyr dies from an ill-gotten wound, Nyx is utterly devastated. So much so that his very grief attracts the attention of the god of death himself, though the man calls himself Azaiah. Death comes with a board game called Winter and with answers. He also proves himself to be far kinder and more compassionate than anyone would have guessed death to be. But then, Azaiah makes it clear he does not kill, but rather guides the souls of those who were already dead.
Azaiah and Nyx begin building a bond over the weeks and months that follow. Their encounters are so often structured around the pretense of playing Winter, but eventually, they find the courage to act on the growing affection they share. They could even share more than a single night of passion, for gods are allowed to take humans as eternal companions. That plan, however, is thrown into turmoil as Nyx has increasingly strong ties to his mortal life. Those ties grow ever more complex when Nyx is betrayed so deeply, he is willing to sacrifice everything for revenge. Even an eternity with Azaiah, the man Nyx has grown to love. And Azaiah, without his companion to bind him to his own compassion, is at risk of turning into a dark force worthy of the fear humans ascribe to death. Only time will tell if Nyx and Azaiah can overcome their struggles before the transformation is complete and they are forever parted.
Storm Front is a wildly intriguing epic fantasy from author team Iris Foxglove. It’s the first book in the Immortals Descending series. After reading the last chapter, I went immediately to the “also by” part to see when the next book would be released and noticed two things. First, the sequel is already available. Second, there are a plethora of other books by Iris Foxglove and many characters from Foxgloves’ other series appear in Storm Front. Sometimes, supporting characters end up stealing the show. Not so with Storm Front. Azaiah and Nyx’s tale consumed my imagination entirely. Even though I was deeply curious about what happened to Ares and Avaice (two other gods in Azaiah’s familial pantheon), they helped build on Azaiah’s and Nyx’s story. Hats off to the authors for so effectively incorporating interesting side characters (who clearly have lives outside the pages of this book). And realizing that at least some of these characters have whole books all their own? Shut up and take my money.
One of the most impactful parts of Storm Front for me was the way the authors use the concept of time. There’s a short introductory chapter to Azaiah, his last as a mortal human. Then we skip ahead a few hundred years or so where the bulk of the action takes place. Rather than plod ahead day by day, week by week, the story retains a sense that a lot of time is passing between chapters. So even though every chapter seemed to include some aspect of Azaiah and Nyx getting to know each other and falling in love, it had the delightful quality of a slow burn without the wait (well, for the reader). As this part of the story reaches its climax, Nyx has lost himself to his lust for revenge and Azaiah is nursing a broken heart. The next part jumps ahead several more centuries and the whole universe that I had come to know has so clearly changed. And the best part of that was the melancholy of reading how all these characters, people, cultures from the first part are gone. Of course cultures, customs, and languages change over hundreds of years but damn! I loved how conflicted I was over wanting to know how everything has changed, but also this yearning to go back to the familiarity of that first world.
As far as the characters go, I thought there was a great balance between Nyx and Azaiah. Visually, they seem to be opposites. Azaiah is an unblemished beauty with long white hair compared to Nyx’s battle-scarred self and the half-shaved black hair of a soldier. For a god, I feel Azaiah is indulgent. As a human, Nyx has the power of domination (which, as far as I understand it, means he’s naturally able to basically convince people to do things; but I wasn’t real clear on how this Dom/sub continuum played out in this universe). And of course, it is their compassion that links them together…and the lack of that compassion that threatens to permanently tear them apart. Nyx’s compassion is demonstrated by the care he shows to all those who fall in battle, even if they’re the enemy. He has a deep capacity to love. Azaiah personally shows compassion to all whom he guides across the river and in some cultures, that’s earned him a reputation for being the “Gentle Boatman” and other epithets.
The romance between Azaiah and Nyx is, as mentioned, a terrific slow burn with big pay off. Even after they fall for each other, the nature of their respective…well, jobs keeps them apart for long stretches. The longer Nyx stays in the empire, the more he just wants to leave everything behind and be with Azaiah. At the same time, the familial connections that tie him to the empire only grow. Through it all, Azaiah is truly patient with Nyx. He never blames the soldier for fulfilling his duties or when Nyx lashes out at Azaiah when someone close to Nyx dies and Azaiah collects the soul. Yet the longer Azaiah is without Nyx as a formal companion, the stronger dark urges in Azaiah grow…the urge to give free reign to his powers, which would effectively end the world. This was such a delicious set up. Pining for each other while actually being together before a desperate Nyx makes a desperate deal that almost ruins everything.
All that said, the story has a wonderful happily ever after for Nyx and Azaiah. I loved how carefully this chunk of the story gets spun out. We get introduced to the new version of Nyx, all but ruined by the fact he gave into a human desire for revenge literally hundreds of years ago, all for a payoff that seems less than trivial to him now. Then there’s Azaiah’s dark self, where he’s virtually nothing but the cruel, cold concept of death. It was interesting to see how these “dark selves” of the MCs get reconciled with the true selves I’d grown to love. Even with the promise of a happily ever after, it felt like a near thing. But when it finally happened, I was all on board for another little chunk of story where Azaiah and Nyx fall into the rhythm of being eternal partners (and the lightning sex was a lot of fun, too).
What more can I say? Go buy this book and be enthralled with these characters in this changeable universe. There’s an epic love story about star crossed lovers, lovers reunited, lovers REALLY reunited, murder, intrigue, utter betrayal, and more. If you’ve read other works by Iris Foxglove, you’ll probably love the cameos from several characters from their other works. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I found it engrossing and enthralling. It’s the kind of book I don’t WANT to finish because I don’t want it to end, that’s how much I enjoyed it. I hope you will as well.
That’s high praise, Camille! Thanks for the enthusiastic review.
Excellent review! I’m excited to add this to my TBR list. ?
The author is new to me, but this book sounds fascinating. Thanks for the wonderful review!
I read the Seasons of the Lukoi a couple of weeks ago and met Death there. I too was impressed and am planning on starting the Starian Cycle next. Such excellent world building throughout