The tragedy about this book is that it had a fairly good plot but was pretty much let down by several shoddy characters and the fact that we’re still basically left in the same position as we were at the start of the book.
The plot is: a newly minted Cursor (like a secret agent) is sent by the First Lord (like a king) to the valley of Calderon to try and uncover the plot against him. Almost immediately, we know who this is (like the first chapter or so). By the end of the book, all we know is that there’s a high lord involved and we know his name but the good guys have no way of calling him out (their evidence is taken by the baddies before the end of a whacking great battle). All the baddies still live, the good guys don’t know where they are and we’re back at square one. Whatevs.
There is some great stuff in the plot though. Tavi (the teengage boy and hero, so original) has to undergo this trial to stop some of the invaders from invading (because they’re ‘savages’ and have tribal infighting even in the middle of a battle) which was genuinely excellent. The whole thing about ‘fury crafting’ (using various spirits, I guess, to fight their battles). All good stuff. But it is entirely let down by not even any of bad guys dying (or at least anyone of consquence).
What is worse is the constant near-death experiences. Fine, you have a power that can heal people faster, I get it. But it’s always razor-edge sort of situations that by the end, you know they’re going to survive. It takes some of the edge out of it (also, I wouldn’t trust any of the sequels).
What is the absolute worst is the constant threat of rape for the women characters. It is used all the fucking time. All the fucking time. Especially by one especially vicious asshole (who is the only guy who bites it). It’s disgusting. There’s no way a person like that would exist, especially in this idyllic valley setting. Someone would have had him (given that ever man in the valley is ex-military). Basically, every time a woman is away from her male support, rape will be threatened or will happen. WTF. Even though they have power furies as well. It was absolutely ridiculous and it was fucking stupid. It basically ruined the book for me.
I could have put up with some of the other ridiculous stuff but not that. To put into perspective of how stupid it was, the really horrible guy, even in the middle of a giant battle tries to capture one of strongest female characters (so he can rape her and break her will). IN THE MIDDLE OF A GIANT FUCKING BATTLE. No one would do that, no one. Ugggggh.
There is also the extremely boring repetitive witterings from some of the secondary characters of ‘women can’t do that’ (like fight, run a housestead, etc). What makes it stupid is that all the women are clearly capable and are already doing the thing at the time. It basically made it feel more sexist, in that it’s trying to not be sexist (like in Starship Troopers) but instead just betrays how sexist it is. It does pass the test, in that it’s got 2 female characters, one of them is a main character and is at least as poweful as some of the other characters. However, it’s still just awful when it comes to the treatment of women as a whole.
It also has that really boring thing (like in Elric) where even the good guys have slaves. Fine, they’re letting them buy their lives back in terms of the good guys, but they still have them. It just doesn’t jive (especially as that explanation is given like one line in the book). It doesn’t even explain why there’s this massive slave owning culture, especially as it’s their own people. Given that slavers seem to be everywhere, it doesn’t seem to lend a particular stable element to their country/empire/whatever. As well, I don’t really care who is in charge either, they’re clearly assholes if they’re also sanctioning slavery.
And I mean, explaining slavery is only given one line but there’s at least 3 or 4 pages of one of the women characters (Isana) talking about how she’s getting older and has never married. Clearly, no man would ever want to marry a woman who is a bit thin and wiry but immensely fucking powerful. It’s absurd given that it’s the harsh valley frontier bollocks. She’d be courted like hell. It’s all bullshit and inconsistent.
Basically, this book is terrible. It has some great action set pieces but once you realise that no one is every in peril, it gets repetitive and boring. Also, the ridiculous rape thing. Just get over it already fantasy authors. It’s boring and awful. Be better writers. 1/5 stars, don’t bother reading.