When Prince Valamon is impossibly taken from the heart of Algaris Castle, the only clue as to motive or culprit is the use of unknown sorcery.
Reclusive cleric Seris is happily tending to his book-infested temple when he finds himself recruited to the politically compromised rescue mission. His sole companion on the journey is Elhan, a cheerfully disturbed vagrant girl with terrifying combat skills and her own enigmatic reasons for seeking the prince.
Venturing into the wild, unconquered lands, Seris has no fighting prowess, no survival skills, and no charisma, as Elhan keeps pointing out. Armed only with a stubborn streak and creative diplomacy, he must find a way to survive outlaw towns, enchanted tropical isles, and incendiary masquerades, all without breaking his vow to do no harm.
Chasing rumours of rising warlords and the return of the vanished sorcerers, Seris and Elhan soon discover a web of treachery and long-buried secrets that go far beyond a kidnapped prince.
As enemies rise from beyond the empire and within it, Seris and Elhan realise that the key to saving Valamon and averting a war may lie in their own bloody pasts, and the fate of their fragile friendship.
Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the publisher for review.
Mok starts the story with the drama of abduction and proceeds with a story filled with the threat of war and a complex web of armies, revenge, ancient curses, and a fight for a kingdom. With varying points of views each character’s voice can be heard, which is a great opportunity to see things from multiple sides and makes for a more rounded story. There is humour in the story, it is never over the top and it is sprinkled throughout to make it seem natural, always managing to bring a slight smile to your face.
When Valamon is abducted, a cleric called Seris and tournament champion the feared Kali-Adelsa are sent to discover who has taken him and bring him back. It’s an unlikely pairing with Seris and the Kali-Adelsa, named Elhan, but it works, and they both bring something to their mission. Seris is inexperienced but he has compassion and a useful skill set, and his honesty and nature is rather charming. He is a likeable character and while there is no one character that you noticeably dislike more than others, Seris was one who is hard not to enjoy. Elhan, on the other hand, is tough and skilled in fighting, but she is also weighed down by having to deal with the curse placed upon her and having death and destruction follow her around. She is not dislikeable though she does take a while to grow on you, but once you understand her more she is much more appealing. The curse makes her fierce and feared but teamed with Seris she learns to control herself and realises she is not the monster she has always thought herself to be.
During their search for Valamon the pair gets caught up in a whole manner of things and each of their skills come to their aide and makes their journey that little bit more adventurous. The curse itself is quite interesting and Mok uses it in the narrative cleverly. It is explained and demonstrated at various times but there is still an air of mystery in it that needs to be uncovered. The struggle Elhan has trying to deal with it is touching and it adds another dimension to her character and brings something extra to the story.
Valamon himself is intriguing because other characters mention numerous times that he isn’t the brightest and he is not leadership material, but he seems smarter than people give him credit for and it makes an interesting side to the story. He is different and therefore mocked, and while not smart in the sense others want him to be, he is still intelligent and observant, which he uses to his advantage.
Mok’s writing captures the sense of a quest and the world she’s created is intriguing and detailed. Seris and Elhan meet a range of characters on their hunt for Valamon and their journey covers much of the land which allows a great sense of the world to be discovered. This also introduces a range of characters and Mok makes an effort to ensure their voices are distinguishable and unique. Each character has their own voice and the dialogue suits them well, aiding their representation and helps understand who they are.
The story has nice surprises that are unexpected and helpful without being too grand. These little surprises perk up the story without being large twists and shocking revelations but still work extremely well and fit naturally into the narrative. There is also a political nature to this story but the fantasy component and clever writing balances this well and while it is a major feature it doesn’t feel too heavy handed.
As you read there is not a feeling of build up or anticipation per se, but the journey and quest to find Valamon is enjoyable and the looming threat of war ends with an action-packed conclusion. Mok does not rush the ending but brings it steadily to a close, making sure everything is explained adequately and the novel ends nicely leaving no questions unanswered. Overall this is an interesting story set in an intriguing world and one that is humorous, well thought out, and enjoyable.
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