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The Blurb On The Back:

Only seven minutes younger than Rolencia’s heir, Byren has never hungered for the throne. He laughs when a seer predicts that he will kill his twin. But the royal heir resents Byren’s growing popularity. Across the land the untamed magic of the gods wells up out of the earth’s heart. It sends exotic creatures to stalk the wintry nights and it twists men’s rights, granting them terrible visions. Those so touched are sent to the Abbey to control their gift, or die. At King Rolen’s court enemies plot to take his throne, even as secrets within his own household threaten to tear his family apart.

Political intrigue and magic combine in this explosive first book in an exciting new fantasy trilogy.

In the kingdom of Rolencia those with Affinity (a type of magic that manifests in different ways) must separate themselves from society. Men enter an abbey dedicated to Sylion, women a convent dedicated to Halcyon.

The second son of King Rolen, Byren’s popular, easy going and content to support his twin, Lence (the nation’s heir) however he can. Everything changes though when Byren’s best friend Orrade is injured during a hunt and Byren asks a renegade power-worker to save Orrade’s life. She does so but also prophesises that Byren will kill his twin and rule Rolencia.

At first Byren laughs off the prophecy. However dark forces are at work, with Rolen’s enemies conspiring to take his throne. The more Byren tries to support Lence, the more he seems to alienate him. Worse, Orrade’s revelation of his feelings for Byren sees the two of them split from Orrade’s family, including his sister Elina, who Byren secretly loves. As Byren tries to avoid his destiny, family secrets are revealed and soon his life and the lives of all he loves come under threat from men who will stop at nothing.

Rowena Cory Daniells’ debut fantasy novel is a competent affair that pitches family intrigue, prophecy and political struggle against solid world-building. There’s plenty of sword play and magic to keep traditionalists happy. I particularly liked how Daniells draws out how those with Affinity are expected to effectively lock themselves away from society, but even the clerical orders are rife with their own politicking and dangers (as discovered by Byren’s younger brother, Fyn, who’s Affinity has seen him grow up away from the court).

The problem is that there is nothing particularly new here and the predictability of the plot twists, including the identity of villains and their plans, makes it ho hum. Daniells also relies heavily on Byren either forgetting or deliberately delaying performance of certain actions that have serious ramifications later. It’s a trite device and one that gets old very quickly. There are times when the pacing sags under the weight of everything Daniells is trying to cram in and it’s a shame that this is limited to a trilogy rather than being given more room to breathe.

All in all, there’s promise here even if the story itself didn’t grab me. I’m not sure I’d read on with this trilogy but I would check out Daniells’ next series.

The Verdict:

This fantasy, the first in a trilogy, is a competent affair that mixes sword play, magic and politics well enough to offer something to traditionalists. Personally, I found the story too predictable and some of the plot moving devices were used too often. However there is no faulting the ambition and while I’m undecided on whether to continue with this trilogy, I would check out the author’s next series.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the free copy of this book.

Cross-posted to books, bookworming, booky_talk and fantasywithbite.

Also (with apologies if this is not permitted), I'm doing an ARC give-away on my RL blog which includes the middle grade fantasy Bartimaeus: The Ring Of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud here if anyone is interested.

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