My Rating: I’ll definitely go there again, and soon! (4-4.5/5)
Martise of Asher, slave to a bishop in the Conclave, an organization of mage-priests, moves in with the renegade and lawless Master of Crows, an isolated mage who works magic that is forbidden to the Conclave. Her owner, Cumbria (and that was confusing, because no it’s not a county in England, and I kept thinking of him as a place) has sent her to spy on Silhara of Neith, the Master of Crows, since the god Corruption has just appeared in the sky in the form of a star. Everyone knows the god is looking for its avatar, and Cumbria suspects the Master of Crows is involved. Martise must find evidence that the latter is conspiring with the god to bring Corruption down to earth.
Her first impression of the place is one of a dilapidated and dangerous manor, empty but for a mute servant and the Master of Crows himself. The manor, with creaking and sagging stairs, cobwebs, and dark corridors, spooks Martise – but she is determined to succeed in order to win her freedom. Her slavery she keeps a secret, because Cumbria sent there as an apprentice mage, answering a request from Silhara to help him search for ways to defeat the god. If she reveals her true status, the game is up, and she’ll never win her freedom.
Meanwhile, Silhara fends off the god’s advances – the dreams of power, wealth, and all the other tempting things. Though Martise has heard only bad things about him and is ready to believe the worst, he knows the god would consume him and the world in short order. The orange grove gives evidence to Silhara’s motivations and character. Though the manor is falling down around his (and his servant’s) ears, his orange trees are well-tended. He climbs and harvests and prunes himself, with the help of his servant, and soon, Martise. And though he hates the taste of oranges (which is eventually explained in a touching anecdote), he eats two every morning for breakfast.
Everybody’s keeping secrets. As Silhara “trains” Martise, he’s really trying to scare her away, because he knows she’s a spy and can’t have her find out about the god’s temptations. As Martise learns from him, helps his servant, and harvests oranges, she tries (fumblingly) to find evidence that Silhara is in cahoots with Corruption.
There are a few humorous notes in this romantic fantasy. Martise, with her seductive speaking voice, can only sing like an offended cat. Silhara occasionally deals with insubordination (in the form of overcooked meat and disgusting porridge) from his servant-friend, who almost immediately forms a bond with Martise.
I enjoyed the characters So. Much. Silhara is tormented, but straight, even though his reputation paints him black. Martise, timid, plain mouse that she seems, is in fact an independent, fierce, strong woman who hides her emotions behind a blank mask. Hers is a silent, resilient sort of strength that serves her well. The servant rounds out the little family they end up (unintentionally) creating. Loyal, kind, and opinionated, he adds comedy, depth, and friendship to the story.
Obviously, Silhara and Martise fall in love. And that romance is delightful, as they struggle against their feelings, he knowing that she’s just there to turn him in to his enemy, she disliking her subterfuge, desperate to win back her freedom, and uncertain of his true character.
For me, after the romance was resolved, my interest in the story lagged a bit – I could guess where the ending was headed. The plot was resolved with some extra flair that felt a bit out of place, and several events seemed to follow one another quickly without much cohesion. At any rate, everything gets resolved and it’s a happily ever after for everyone.
This is a wonderful story about a slave woman who exceeds her role as a slave, demonstrates her own strength of character, reaches for (and achieves) what she wants through independence, willpower, and hard work. It’s about a man who struggles to overcome his humble and tragic origins, to fight temptation. It’s about how each finds the strength to succeed in their love for each other. Also, of course, it’s about magic and gods and a battle against evil.
*Advance e-reader copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley. This version was included in a collection of fantasy romances titled Darkly Dreaming. While I did not finish all the books in that collection, the ones I did will be reviewed on this blog separately.
At times, particularly when they go adventuring to the soul eater’s library in search of ancient texts to help them defeat Corruption, this book felt very like Lynn Kurland’s delightful, light, and extraordinarily witty romantic fantasies set in the Nine Kingdoms. Begin with Star of the Morning, in which mercenary Morgan, who disbelieves in magic, must find the magic that resides within her, in order to save her realms from a black mage bent on invasion and destruction.
The god Corruption brought to mind N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy, which begins with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Yeine Darr unexpectedly finds herself heiress to the city of Sky, and becomes embroiled in a god-sized war. This is another gods-and-mortals story, and it’s beautiful and complex.