Warning: This review contains major spoilers for A Star-Reckoner’s Lot.
“Tirdad will forsake honour. With his sword, or on it.
All his life, Tirdad has been an honourable man. Right until the point where honour made him run his sword through his beloved cousin, ending her rebellion.
Wracked with guilt, Tirdad is ready to forsake his honour, forget the past, and forge a new path ahead, but in a cruel twist of fate, Tirdad becomes bonded to the blade that made him a kinslayer. Cursed by the sword, Tirdad inherits both his cousin’s planet-reckoning powers and the conspiracy against her that forced her into rebellion.”
There’s something a bit magical about a novel that picks up right where the previous one left off. So frequently there’s a time gap between entries, and characters have progressed and grown ‘offscreen’ – while that’s often enjoyable and an easy way to set a second entry apart from the first, for readers who really love some character development to chew on it can leave you wanting. Especially when, as in A Star-Reckoner’s Lot, the ending was earth-shatteringly traumatic for all involved.
In the opening of An Ill-Fated Sky, Tirdad has had barely a moment to reflect on his loss and grief before being thrown into a new and complicated set of circumstances. In plunging his blade into Ashtadukht’s heart, he has unwittingly imbued it with her essence and bound himself to it, and to her. When he flings this living, pulsing thing from himself in horror, he discovers just how much his life is about to change.
Here Ashtadukht takes on the role of a sort of dark, twisted Ned Stark – though she is not truly present, she is central to the plot and features heavily in the motivations and actions of the characters. Meanwhile Tirdad, arguably the least developed of the original trio, is front and center as our protagonist. His growth in An Ill-Fated Sky cannot be overstated – a man bound by his main characteristics of duty and honor, Tirdad becomes much more over the course of the story. He is forever altered by his loss, and he is in many ways broken and piecing himself back together – his morals are greyer, and he is imbued with some of the fire and rage of Ashtadukht, but at the same time he is his own man. He is not too proud to ask for help, or to be vulnerable to others. His journey is ultimately one of hope, where his cousin could find only despair.
It’s no secret that Waray was my favorite character by a fairly wide margin, and due to the wealth of backstory we receive about her and her sister Shkarag, there’s still a special place in my heart for the mischievous half-div. Here we also get to know some of the other daughters of Eshm, and they’re every bit as entertaining. Their dialogue is a joy to read, and I always get the feeling that Drake truly loves writing them. Shkarag is dealing with many of the same emotions as Tirdad, but her (far more destructive) approach to them is fascinating to watch, especially as their relationship evolves.
The setting continues to be vivid and atmospheric – Drake has a unique way of describing beautiful things with ugly words, giving each location a sense of being both breathtaking and a little bit repulsive beneath the surface. This marries perfectly with the plot, in which Tirdad begins to uncover the threads of what may prove to be a grand conspiracy perpetrated by those claiming to protect ‘The Truth’. The quality of the prose is especially apparent during the action scenes, which are exciting, easily visualized and at times fairly horrifying. I find that I enjoy the approach to violence here – too often fight scenes are caught up solely in the mechanics of the fight. The characters don’t grow or change or reveal anything of themselves, they simply win or lose. Drake’s fight scenes are tied closely to the personalities of the characters, and by giving them a smidge of introspection, the battle scenes themselves become character development.
The magic system also receives some love, and while drawing a lot is still as random and risky as ever, I think it’s given a good amount of depth and explanation without getting dry. The pacing is organic, and the story wraps up nicely while also giving us one hell of a hook into book 3. I swore out loud and then laughed myself silly at the last line.
All in all, it’s a clear improvement over the first entry. But one of the most extraordinary things about An Ill-Fated Sky is the emergence of character development as its greatest strength. Building on an already strong showing in A Star Reckoner’s Lot, AIFS is host to some of the most believable, enigmatic and intriguing characters I have come across since Robin Hobb’s Fitz and the Fool.
Bingo Squares 2018
- Reviewed on r/Fantasy
- Non Western Setting
- Self Published
- Alternate History
- Published 2018
- Fewer than 2500 GR Ratings (as of 4/2018)
- RRAWR Author