The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.
The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.
After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board.
Normally, I’d skip posting a DNF review on a book like this, simply because it’s ultimately just…there for me, but I know this is an eagerly anticipated title so I wanted to put something out.
First off, let me say that I am not an established Mark Lawrence fan. I pretty much picked this up because this was a new series so I figured it’d be as good place to jump in as any. As far as newbie-friendless goes, I’d rate this book a solid 9. I was a bit confused about the setting – we have actual Italian city-state names and actual Norse mythology – but we have an equal number of place names that are brand new to me- but it’s something that is fairly easy to sort out with a few Google searches if you’re so inclined and ultimately doesn’t really harm one’s enjoyment (or not) of the text so I’m not going to knock it too hard for that. Aside from that, I do think Lawrence does do a decent enough job of setting things up.
So why the DNF then? (And this time I did get 45% done, through sheer force of will)
Because, much like The Emperor’s Blades, this is the sort of epic fantasy where little ultimately seems to happen in the first book, and enjoyment of it is predicated on your enjoyment of the characters. I love a good character-driven story, but if those are going to work, you have to be emotionally invested in said characters. And I just wasn’t.
Jal is the 10th in line to the throne – close enough to have a title and be demanding enough to want it to be used (I lost track of how many times he complained about Snorri didn’t call him Prince) – but far enough from the throne that he pretty much spends his time carousing and getting into debt. He’s not quite amoral, but he’s close. I love amoral characters, but the author has to work extra hard to make them engaging, they need to have depth. He doesn’t. He’s just a party boy. Snorri fares slightly better, and has at least some motivation of his own, but it’s not unique or memorable or strong enough to have his character make-up for the deficiency of our main protagonist.
So will fans of the first books like it? Maybe? I honestly can’t say.
All I can say is that if you like you’re epic fantasy plot driven, you’ll want to look elsewhere. If you like your epic fantasy character driven, you may still want to look elsewhere. Kvothe he is not. Maybe if he had half Kvothe’s charm, then we wouldn’t be in this position.
Available June 3rd