While it took me awhile to sort my way through the early morass of the world-building and language of the first chapter, I ended up enjoying this novel a lot, while still feeling annoyed at some of the too cleverness that often inhabits playful sci fi and fantasy (Brandon Sanderson is deeply enamored with overly cutesy and playful “repartee” at times, and so is this novel as well too often).
So the world we’re looking at involves a series of nine aristocratic houses inhabiting nine different planets in a collective all sending an emissary/echelon of the house to train to be a lictor (advanced necromancer) in a central academy, paired with their champion, the cavalier. We meet Gideon, one of the last surviving members of her house, as she’s planning to run away. Instead, she’s conscripted to become the cavalier of Harrow, who is being trained to be a lictor. We follow them (in their rivalry, commiseration, flirtation?) through their early days of the schooling where there’s intrigue and a variety of others like them and not so much like them. And then it becomes a murder mystery as fellow members are found dead.
So the novel has its moments that I didn’t like. For example, sometimes Gideon is frustrating and annoying and not usually in a good way. There’s a tendency to reuse jokes and comments throughout, and rather than being a moment calling back another, it’s like trying for the same laugh twice. But I think the character-building and most of the writing is solid throughout. The world-building is quite good too, although, I can’t tell if this universe has a billion people across 1000s of years, or only like 20.
It’s a nice mix of Shadow of the Torturer, Ender’s Game, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.