This is a powerhouse of an opening to a trilogy. It has everything that I look for in a novel. An Empire that is corrupt and that seeks to illuminate those who are different. It feels so very relevant at the moment with a lot of countries becoming more inward-looking and exclusionary not least the UK and it’s a picture of what life could be like and indeed has been like for those who are do stand out.
Steiner is a good lad, he works in the Smithy with his father and he fancies the innkeeper’s daughter. He’s probably dyslexic and he feels like he’s being judged most of the time by the other villagers because of it but then there’s some added pressure because Kjellrunn his sister sticks out. She believes in the old gods and people like that are stigmatised, society is convinced that she must have the witchsign.
Each year representatives from the Empire test the children for witchsign and take away those who are afflicted. Steiner is identified as having the witchsign and is taken to Vladibogdan in order to protect his sister.
Cripes I loved this book. Steiner is a character I really loved because he kept getting back up and he kept trying to do what was right. He isn’t without backbone he has a deep love for his sister and his family but that love is familial love and comes with the baggage that families can inflict without meaning to. So he’s resentful even though he’s doing what he thinks is right. One of the moments I loved is a conversation that he has with a Sprigani a magical race in this world where he learns about acceptance and becomes that much stronger because of it.
Kjellrunn has a different path and I also love her as a character, I related hard as someone who struggled to fit in at school and seeing her with this power that she comes into as well as her own strength is a joy to follow.
This book does contain Dragons and they are used to great effect I also loved the way the Vigilants who run the island are portrayed differently. Some delight in being cruel others have a complicated relationship with being in the Empire. And it was this that really got me. The idea of having an essentially evil empire where not everyone in power is blinded by the regime and there’s the possibility that some want to destroy things from the inside.
This novel gave me everything I wanted, characters coming of age, coming into their own, whether that’s with powers or without. That they are fighting against injustice and I will be picking up Stormtide as soon as I can. Keep an ear out I’m interviewing Den for the podcast soon.