Rising from their sea-torn ships like vengeful, pale phantoms, the Norlanders laid waste to the Shadar under cover of darkness. They forced the once-peaceful fisher folk into slavery and forged an alliance with their former trading partners, the desert-dwelling Nomas tribe, cutting off any hope of salvation. Now, two decades after the invasion, a rebellion gathers strength in the dark corridors of the city. A small faction of Shadari have hired the Mongrel, an infamous mercenary, to aid their fledgling uprising - but with her own shadowy ties to the region, she is a frighteningly volatile ally. Has she really come to lead a revolution, or for a more sinister purpose all her own?
©2012 Evie Manieri (P)2012 Recorded Books
I chose this audiobook on a whim and I'm glad I did as it turned out to be a hidden gem. I'm not quite sure why, but the synopsis left me with the impression that this would be an action fantasy with a bit of romance following the story of the Mongrel. Imagine my surprise then when this turned out to be a dark, intense, complicated, multiple POV fantasy with excellent world building and characters that were all shades of grey.
A generation ago the strange Norlander raiders arrived in their ships and invaded and enslaved the Shadari people. The Norlanders sought a strange ore with magical properties than can only be found in the Shadari deserts.
We join the story just as rebellion is brewing. Tension is high between the Norlanders, who are worried that the magical ore reserves are running low, and the Shadari slaves who long for freedom from the harsh life of working in the mines or serving the Norlanders as slaves and servants. With the Norlander governor terminally ill the Shadari fear his daughter, the harsh and cruel White Wolf, will be next in line for the position. The Shadari rebel leaders hire the mysterious mercenary known only as the Mongrel to help them overthrow the Norlanders. The problem is the Mongrel's own mysterious past has its roots in Shadar and her loyalty is not a sure thing!
The World Building
The world building was excellent. We had three different and interesting cultures clashing. The Norlanders were a bit reminiscent of the Vikings in culture. In an interesting twist they were not fully human. The Shadari call them the Dead Ones as they are cold, pale, and burn in the sunlight! They can also communicate telepathically with each other and other races. Despite that they are not actually vampires. The Shadari had an interesting culture of their own. Before the arrival of the Dead Ones they followed a religion that was lead by their mage priests the Ashas. Rather than use their magic to help at the time of the Norlander invasion the Ashas chose to commit mass suicide by flinging themselves from the Temple into the sea! The third people in the mix were the Nomas. They remained neutral during the invasion and are an interesting bunch as the men are desert dwellers while the women prefer life at sea. They meet only a few times a year.
This book had plenty of cool magic and creatures. The Norlanders use the mysterious magical ore to create magically enchanted Imperial swords. The also ride dragon like creatures called Triffons. Both the Shadari and the Nomas had magic of their own.
This was a character driven fantasy with a ton of interesting POV and secondary characters. This was no simple tale of good vs evil and the characters were a well drawn bunch who each had flaws and strengths to recommend or condemn them.
The children of the ailing Norlander governor were a complicated and interesting bunch. They were a dysfunctional family to rival the Lannisters! From the Shadari, both Harotha and Daryan were likeable, but flawed characters. The Nomas king Jachad also had an interesting story arc as he had to juggle his personal desires with the needs of his people. The last of the POV characters, the disillusioned Norlander soldier Rho, was perhaps the most intriguing of the lot.
All in all I really enjoyed this compelling character driven fantasy and loved its intense and melancholy feel. I was caught up in the story and emotionally engaged by the happenings which is always a sign of a good book.
This was narrated by the excellent Bianca Amato. She really got the tone of the story.
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