Dev and Kiran are unwilling guests of Alathia since crossing the border from the lawless, magic rules city of Niravel to free Kiran, a blood mage, from his cruel master, Ruslan. Dev is desperate to return – if he doesn’t, his friend’s daughter, Melly, will face a terrible fate without someone to look out for her, and time is running out.
They do get an opportunity to return when Alathia’s border wards start to fail. Something is happening in Niravel – and Ruslan is suspect, but the magic goes far beyond Alathia’s wards – seemingly killing wizards, threatening Niravel’s fragile water supply and possibly even threatening the city itself. Captain Marten of the guards leads an embassy to Niravel to help investigate, but that’s easier said than done in a city as corrupt and cruel as Niravel when you have to make severe sacrifices and work with unconscionable enemies.
Dev finds himself in the city, trying to find a way to rescue Melly and save Kiran from Ruslan – again. While at the same time finding himself both betrayed by Marten and having to work with him to save those he cares about. It’s a balancing act of trying to solve the mystery, save those he cares about while worrying about them falling into either Ruslan’s or Marten’s grasp – neither of them can be trusted and both are looking for levers with which to control Devlan.
I made the mistake with this book of picking up book 2 of a series. That’s less than ideal for any book – but particularly for a High fantasy novel. After all, if an Urban Fantasy vampire refers to “Chicago” you know what they’re talking about. If Dev refers to Alathia I don’t know if that’s a place, a person, a concept or a pet cat.
So I started reading this book thinking I’d made a massive mistake, I was hopelessly lost and there’d be no way I could give it a fair chance. But I held on, kept reading and it all fell into place – the world is well established, it doesn’t have any inconsistencies or weak points and is realistic enough that I could pick up even this fantastic world relatively quickly. It also helped a lot with how the world building was presented. It can be difficult for fantasy authors not to info dump. They’ve created this wonderful shiny world and they want to show us all of it – even if it’s not relevant. This author resisted the temptation. There are enough side references to let me know there’s a whole lot more out there and a whole lot more that can be explored over the course of the series, but there’s no desperate urge to tell me everything now and drown me in unnecessary minutiae. When it’s relevant it’s explained, when it matters, it’s explained. It made not just for an interesting world and good pacing – but also meant that I quickly got my bearings in the story. I still think it’d be a good idea to read the first book first (yes, I’m just conformist like that), but not having read it didn’t become a barrier to enjoying this book.
And I did enjoy it. It had a series of nuances in the story – something far too much fantasy lacks. The characters had multiple motivations and grey areas in their morality and world view with a lot of tolerating evil for the sake of achieving a greater good. The mystery and the investigation is good mainly for letting us explore the world, how the city works (and get me acquainted with things) but also is nicely complicated by the multiple threads – Dev’s worry for Kiran and Melly, his lack of trust for Marten and ultimately having to save the city while working with Ruslan – even while suspecting him as being the culprit behind the deaths.