I won’t finish this book. The following are the main problems I had with it:
Starting off with some technical issues
1. The pacing was uneven. Long, long info-dumping passages that described characters, clothing, the world, its history, and other unnecessary elements to the story. These passages masqueraded as world-building, but were difficult to absorb. They interrupted the story. Interspersed with these sections were periods of high action. This roller-coaster pacing kept pulling me out of the story.
2. The world in which this book is set resembles our own world’s history too closely. I kept getting distracted by the similarities between nationalities in the book and our own ancient civilizations. I had no trouble discerning the historical analogues for several events and countries in the book.
On to the most problematic features
3. The “erotic” sections were overwhelming. Too many detailed descriptions of sexual practices, sexual perversions, rape. They are shocking, and perhaps that is what the author meant to do. However, the story feels more like disturbing, perverted erotica that was glossed over with a bit of a fantastic (as in fantasy) plot. One example: a male protagonist practically salivates over the idea of a woman being raped by a bull in a secret (but public) “religious ritual.” In another example, a woman endures being forced by her own brother to perform a (repeated) sexual act.
4. My third point brings me to my fourth (and most critical) point. The characterization was terrible, and one-sided. The male characters, when they weren’t raping or forcing sexual acts on female characters, seemed interesting enough. Stjepan, in particular, I would have liked to learn more about. BUT!!! The female characters were always only defined through the perspectives of the male characters. Each female in this book serves only to reflect male characters’ (often abusive) desires, lusts, needs, perspectives. The women are used and frequently abused by the men, even by the main protagonists. They (the women) have no agency, no control over their own sexuality. No way do I want to read a book where women are objectified, with no sexual, political, social power of their own, where they only exist as props for the male characters. Nor do I want to read glorified descriptions of rape and sexual abuse.
Given the way women and rape are portrayed in this work, I do not recommend it to anyone.
*Review copy via Edelweiss
Have you tried George R.R. Martin‘s Song of Ice and Fire series? There are more narrators/protagonists, but the world-building is comprehensive, to say the least, the political intrigue complex, and the characters more realistic, complicated, and treated more equally by the author. Start with A Game of Thrones:
For a slightly different and utterly unique tale about afterlives set a dark and decaying city, with female characters with agency and some violence and sex, try David Edison‘s The Waking Engine (reviewed in February). Cooper, from Manhattan, finds himself suddenly alive in a very strange world, where death is not final, and True Death is becoming more and more difficult to reach. The Dying are clogging the City, and it is up to Cooper to put all the pieces in place to save it.
For a gritty epic fantasy where gods and mortals struggle for power, try When Shadows Fall by Bruce Blake (reviewed in October 2013). The Small Gods, once banished from the earth, plot their return. Convinced that their return would be catastrophic for humans, one cocky prince begins a quest to stop them. Narratives split between not-too-many characters with tenuous connections and a deftly woven plot make it a suspenseful and intriguing read.