Holy gothic fantasy, Batman! I adored this book! Deliciously dark, fully of moral ambiguity and complex characters, it had everything I love in a fantasy, and then some.
Nadya has spent her life in a monastery, with the voices of gods in her head. She prays to them and is granted magic in return. She is considered the last powerful cleric in her country of Kalyazin. She’s also a bit untested in her faith.
Kalyazin has been at war with another country (Tranavia) for centuries, and it has ripped both countries apart. When Tranavian soldiers invade the monastery, Nadya escapes with her life and a burning desire to end the war with the “heretics” by bringing her gods into their country.
Malachiasz is a Tranavian on the run from his own people. His past is shrouded in secrecy, slowly being revealed throughout the book. He represents everything Nadya hates and distrusts, being a blood mage, which is what Tranavians use in place of clerical powers. He, Nadya, and two others (Rashid and Parajihan) form an uneasy alliance, all with the goal of toppling a king.
One of the (very) many things I loved about the book was that it was told from two separate points of view. As well as Nadya the Kalyazin, half the chapters are told by Serefin, a Tranavian prince. So, the reader gets to see both sides of the war and be constantly reminded that things are never as cut-and-dry as they seem. There are casualties on both sides, both physical and emotional.
I really can’t decide who my favorite character is because they were all so well written. Serefin was interesting because he was so complex. Being an incredibly powerful blood mage, he’d been at the front of the war for years and committed violent acts, but at the same time he’s really sort of a pacifist. When he’s called away from the front and back to court, he went from being a soldier certain of himself to an unwilling pawn. He knows he’s in more danger there than he was at the front.
Then there’s Nadya, whose faith is shaken. On top of having to try to survive without the walls of the monastery around her, she has to decide what she truly believes. I felt for her character, but loved that at no point in the book did she decide to play the victim. She was strong, and even when she made questionable choices, she owned up to them and did the best she could.
Then of course there’s Malachiasz. The only thing I didn’t like about him is that I cannot for the life of me figure out how to pronounce his name. My mind kept going to Firefly of course (“Mal: bad, in the Latin”. Thanks, River). However, he was a fantastic character. I loved his backstory as it all came out. I can’t say any more because I don’t want to inadvertently give anything away.
In case I haven’t already bored you to death with my raving, reader, let me say: if you like dark, twisted fantasy, full of magic and violence, this book is for you. I highly recommend it.