Reviewed by Ulysses Dietz
Member of The Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team
“What is the first rule of magic?”
“Ignorance is for the weak.”
I give this book five stars because Arshad Ahsanuddin’s writing is marvelous and elegant. His world-building is also fantastic, and subtle, in addition. There are no great info-dumps that try to explain a whole new universe, just details along the way that create bright points of understanding that build upon themselves as the narrative proceeds. The reader does feel as if they’ve been dropped into the middle of something, but bit by bit a picture emerges and they feel at home.
I was struck by the not-too-heavily veiled parallels that Ahsanuddin’s universe has with our own world. A highly industrial and mineral-based magical civilization colonizes and marginalizes an earth-and-plant-based magical civilization that it constantly refers to as “primitive.” Even the kinds of magic used by the two civilizations – at peace now, but with a mutual enmity dating back three thousand years – are very different. I’ll note that there’s a distinctly “Star Wars” feeling about the technology, but the importance of magic is one of those fascinating tropes that I attribute to the Harry Potter phenomenon.
When Mikal, a border warden, finds himself in need of special skills to repair his bow after an accident in the wilderness, he seeks out a gifted young magical craftsman on the margins of one of the Empire’s provincial cities near the heavily forested borderlands. Rian is utterly fascinated by the magical technology of Mikal’s bow, and tries to trick Mikal into revealing more than he wishes to. The twist here is that Rian is Madrian Tanek, whose father is the governor of the largest Imperial city in the New World. Rian’s ongoing interest in Mikal and his people’s magic leads to a whole series of complications that bring the Westerners into confrontation with the Imperials once more.
Needless to say, both young men have daddy issues, Rian with his father, Darin Tanek, and Mikal with his father, Merran. One of the more interesting of those complications is that Merran was a governmental assassin and bodyguard, an Imperial Edge, before marrying Mikal’s “primitive” mother. The fact that Mikal and Rian find each other very attractive is also something that promises all sorts of emotional hullabaloo going forward.
Meanwhile, the rebellious Rian’s even more rebellious uncle, Laras Tanek, is a frustrated wizard scholar, yearning to dig deep into old magic and parts of the Empire’s past that other wizards really want him to stay out of. This furnishes the plot with a whole other set of complications, leading up to a surprising denouement will surely be a catalyst for the plot of the second book, “Fire and Darkness.”