An epic fantasy novel that actually has an ending!
That alone would get it an above-average helping of stars but this novel is also a multi-faceted adventure that gleefully subverts a number of beguiling but insidious conventions, like the expected appearance of the main female character and tedious notions of manhood associated with warriors.
We get stuck straight in to the story, about a motley group of bickering adventurers who raid a forbidden citadel and unwittingly cause the kind of unrelenting carnage normally found in apocalyptic science fiction. There are many great details, from the little cloth guardians to the urns of power that contain nothing more than crusted material. There is magic all right but it’s a bit mucky. And there’s blood. Lots and lots of blood. Red blood, green blood; it’s everywhere, even plants drink it en route to the maw of a particularly vicious demon who, in common with much of this often witty but gripping tale, comes in unexpectedly handy.
Then there is the brood army. I love the brood army; I hope they get their own novel. They start as the spawn of an absolute git of a dragon, a beast whose beauty is entirely at odds with her elegant but pointless sadism. The army is also beautiful and female, although green instead of blue like their mother. Kind of reptilian but also weirdly sexy, a contingent of them start to become more human in ways they do not understand and mummy is not best pleased…
Meanwhile, the maimed victim of the opening chapter’s torture scene seeks vengeance on his persecutors, who form the last of the triptych of despicable but compelling villainy. The maimed character, Lord Frith, seems to undergo the greatest change, using his hard-won power in increasingly generous and inventive ways. However, the big heart of the novel is the slightly butch-yet-feminine and very capable heroine Wydrin, who is so well-drawn I feel like I know her. Less mouthy but perhaps more moving is the mournfully noble disgraced knight Sir Sebastian, who has his own unexpected side.
This is a big book but I read it quickly and you should do the same.