Each year, Democryos sends his brightest student into the war-torn countryside to work magic. But when his wife leaves him for a mysterious stranger, he finds his own life ravaged.
Forsaking the comfort of the citadel, he searches for her, traveling through the same forgotten lands where he sent his students. Along the way, he befriends an elusive member of the king’s harem, a holy man harboring guilt, and a maimed soldier. Together, they stumble upon a key—not only to the war, but to understanding the magic of voidance itself.
I received this from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review (it’s spoiler-free!!).
So I was really pleasantly surprised by this one! The blurb isn’t too descriptive or intriguing, and I have to say I was a bit hesitant about the quality of the novel when I first started it. My suspicions seemed to be confirmed in the first half of the book, but then it started picking up and heading in an unexpected direction.
In this book we follow Democryos, a teacher and master voider at a prestigious university for voidance. His character is particularly interesting because we get to see this world’s magic system from the perspective of a master rather than a novice. Though not as fleshed-out with rules as I would have liked, the magic system gained a lot of depth from this perspective. It is explained pretty seamlessly through Dem’s thoughts and actions. I thought it was extremely unique and creative, and its central position in the story holds more depth than is revealed at first glance.
Another aspect that made Dem interesting was how unlikely of a protagonist he was for a fantasy-type novel–he’s short-tempered, privileged, and egotistical. He is adamant that his view of logic and reason is correct, and much of the novel centers around his selfishness. Fortunately, glimpses of morality begin shining through his rough exterior, and he undergoes some pretty satisfying character development. I really enjoyed seeing how his views and actions subtly changed throughout the story.
Perhaps what I found most interesting about the book was the central theme of reason versus faith–something that is still debated vehemently today. Wozniak did an excellent job of showing the extremities of each side through Dem, the scientist, and Blythe, a priest. He highlights how silly it is that neither seem to be able to compromise, both refusing to accept that anything but their own belief is correct. The way that the two end up entangling is refreshing, and maybe gives a little hope that the two sides can live in harmony.
The book had some issues with plot and pacing, and the world-building felt a bit jarring. I’m overlooking that because I thought the characters were excellent and it was a refreshingly creative take on speculative fiction– it doesn’t follow conventional paths and tropes. It is a bit difficult to get into, but I promise it will lead you in a completely unexpected direction (a good one!).
It ends on a cliffhanger, and I definitely want to continue the series.