For a long-spanning story from childhood to young adulthood, for a character who makes mistakes but you love her even more for it, for a blend of interpersonal drama and battlefield bloodiness
Born the bastard daughter of a painted lady, Marilia was told she would live out her days within the walls of her mother’s brothel, a companion for the rich men of Tyrace. But after a terrible betrayal, she and her twin brother Annuweth flee the only home they’ve ever known in search of the one man who can offer her a chance at a better life–the Emperor of Navessea’s greatest general, a friend of her deceased father. Along the way, Marilia discovers, for the first time, the gift she has for strategy and warfare—a world that is forbidden to girls like her. When the empire is threatened by a foreign invasion, Marilia swears to use all her courage and cunning to do whatever she can to help repel the invasion—if she can convince anyone to follow her. Marilia will need all the help she can get, even if it means doing something her brother may never forgive: making a deal with the man who murdered her father.
This story should pretty much have something for everyone (except romance). If you like seeing a child grow up and learn tough lessons with the hand they’ve been dealt in life, this is for you. If you like battles and strategizing and scheming around the hierarchy, there’s plenty of it here. If you like court drama and interpersonal conflict, betrayal, trust issues — take a look inside. Honestly there’s so much bound up in this one story, and it’s avoided the trap of trying to fit so much in that it loses focus. The story stays sharp and Marilia is always in the spotlight.
My favorite aspect of this book is something a bit subtle: the details and style. We got scattered insights into the world, the cultures, the characters, the gods, everything. Some of them quickly became relevant, and some built up the immersion. But I also feel that more than anything, they created a feeling of more to come. I’m desperately fascinated by the terrors of the deep that haunt both sides of the war. Who knows where the story will go from here, but I know that it will lead to an exploration of those delightful nuggets of knowledge scattered in the first book.
Some of the highest praise I can give a book is I didn’t see it coming and while the general path for Marilia held few big surprises, the climax was not one I anticipated, and I love that! There are constant character revelations, straight through to the end, that can shake even the foundations of what you thought to be true. And as for where Marilia ends, I felt it was strongly in keeping with her character (meaning I fully support it). It was open-ended enough that you could probably end here and take this as a standalone book, but as there are more to come in the Chrysathamere trilogy, so no sad departures from Marilia just yet.
Be aware that this book has some grim brutality in moments. The darkness seeps in not only in violence of action, but mental manipulation and frankly, the terror of the realities of life. Slavery, rape, drowning, failure… these are the elements that give the characters, and the story, depth of feeling that you feel in your core.
Thank you to Morgan Cole for a free copy in exchange for an honest review!