This is the newest and greatest offering from the incomparable Jacqueline Carey. I like her work, in case you couldn’t tell. She’s probably best known for her Kushiel series. I’m pretty sure this is a standalone story in that there really isn’t anywhere left to go and everything was wrapped up neatly. I really like to find standalones that are gems such as this one.
Khai and Zariya live in a world where gods walk the earth and from time-to-time gift mortal humans with their particular power. At a time in the dim past, the gods were stars in the sky but they rebelled against their father, the sun, and he cast them down to earth. There was one who did not rebel but he was cast down with the rest to spend eons buried in the earth developing a serious grudge against everyone and everything.
Khai and Zariya were born at the same moment at an auspicious time when the moons were in a particular alignment. These two babies were connected and destined to be Sun-Blessed and Shadow. Khai was raised to be the ultimate warrior and protector of Princess Zariya. Zariya grew up as the youngest and most useless - daughter of the King. But she was well-loved by her father if not by the rest of her ageless family. Her family was honored by their goddess with long-life but the gift hasn’t been given in a long time and the family is starting to feel a bit desperate to get their next renewal.
Khai, living in the sere desert, faced his god and was given a precious gift; something for which every warrior would kill. And Khai becomes the most efficient killer known.
At sixteen years of age, the two are finally united and from that moment, nothing could have separated them. While the two are learning about each other, Khai frets over his role as protector; there seems little to threaten the lowest ranked Princess and he wonders why destiny would feel the need to give her a protector. But doom is looming on the horizon despite most people willing to ignore it: Miasmus, the mistreated child of the gods, is waking and determined to destroy everything in the world so his siblings will suffer as he has.
But there are prophecies that tell how to defeat him. Unfortunately, the prophecies were as fragmented and scattered as the stars when they were cast down. Every country has pieces of the prophecy and only one people made the effort some centuries earlier to track down and document all the fragments. But they were a selfish people refusing to share their knowledge and when their country island was completely destroyed it was believed that the whole prophecy was lost as well.
On Zariya’s voyage to join her betrothed and be married, their ship is taken by pirates who are self-styled prophecy-hunters. The pirates are overjoyed to find the Sun-Blessed Princess and her Shadow who are two of the foretold heroes who will save the world. Through a series of mishaps, they are joined by others who all seem to have a part to play in the prophecy. They just need to find all the pieces to know what they are expected to do.
But time is not on their side as Miasmus is sending out his zombie “children” and some of the smaller nations are already overrun and lost. Refugees are flooding into other countries. Beseeching the gods nets them some sorely-needed advice, hope and even small miracles. But this fight is all on the humans’ side; the gods seem unable or unwilling to confront or stop their errant brother.
This was, quite simply: great. The world-building is certainly one of Carey’s strengths. But her characters are what carry the story. Oh, wait…maybe it’s the plot… Or maybe…she’s just one of those rare writers who do all three equally well. If you like epic fantasy with some originality, give this one a try. ~~ Catherine Book
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