I was actually really nervous about this one because I did not like her first book, The Bone Season, when I read it years ago. It was by turns over- and under-written, and to me at least, was obviously written by someone still finding her writing voice. I was hoping that in the future she would write something else that would show her matured talents, and sure enough, that is exactly what happened. What a difference ten years can make (her first published book was started when she was still a teenager).
This book is an epic fantasy—a standalone! that rare unicorn—and it is hefty. My copy was an 804 page behemoth, but I honestly did not feel like I was reading an 804 page book. It reads really fast, especially after you get past the start of it (which is more on the leisurely end). It’s definitely a slow burn, and Shannon takes her time setting up the characters and the world before spinning up the plot, but I was thankful for all that time because it really provides a nice foundation for when everything goes to hell. And it does go to hell! I was surprised several times over the course of the story, and that’s pretty hard to do.
Her style is still recognizable from that first book—she’s very cerebral as a writer, lots of ten dollar words, extremely intricate worldbuilding—but she’s let go of the mimicry and the cliched plotting that bugged me in Bone Season, and she’s more in control now.
I kind of don’t actually want to talk about the actual book very much because I really enjoyed going in almost completely unspoiled (though I was spoiled for one thing, the f/f relationship between SPOILERS Ead and Queen Sabran END SPOILERS. But I will say that this book involves talking dragons, mysterious magical organizations, a world divided between East and West (with POV characters on both sides of the divide), extended meditations on conformity and religion, so many three-dimensional female characters (just, an abundance of them), and a big bad evil dragon that is awakening from a 1,000 year old sleep to come and end the world.
I really ended up loving the characters by the end, too, even though Shannon’s style kept me at a distance at first. That’s where the length comes in, though, you really get immersed in the world with them and come to care for them. I’m so glad I gave Shannon another chance as an author, because I really enjoyed myself reading this book. I’m going to have to buy myself a copy when it comes out in paperback, because I’m definitely reading it again. A warning, though, if you read in hard copy before that: the hardcover is cumbersome. My wrists and fingers hurt after reading for extended periods of time, which I did a lot because this was hard to put down.
[4.5 stars, rounded up]
CBR Bingo: Reader’s Choice