The following is a guest post Fiction Friday review by Blaine DeLancey, aka Dalillama. Blaine is a regular commenter over at SNR. He offered to review a trilogy written by an author who has a grasp on inclusiveness when writing characters into the story. I am thankful for his contribution and look forward to reading the series. Feel free to ask Blaine questions in the comments about the books if you have any.
The Necromancer Chronicles by Amanda Downum introduces us to a richly realized world of magic and intrigue. It is a world haunted by spirits and the restless dead, where mages bind spells and spirits alike in gemstones. Our guide through this world is Issylt Iskaldur, a spy and a necromancer. She serves the throne of Selafai, though she came there as a refugee in her childhood.
The first book, The Drowning City, takes Issylt far from her home, to the canal-washed city of Symir. Built by the Assari Empire when they conquered Sivahra 150 years ago, Symir is still a city sharply divided between rebels and collaborators. Issylt, accompanied by the mercenary partners Adam and Xinai Lin, a collection refugees and strays collected by spymaster Kirilos Orfion. They have one task: Free Sivahra. Assar looks North with covetous eyes, and Selafai would see them warring elsewhere. Issylt makes contact with Zhirin Laii, apprentice mage. Her lover is the leader of the rebel Jade Tigers, whom Issylt is there to contact. Meanwhile, Xinai alone of the three has come home, and her old family ties lead her towards the terroristic Dai Tranh. As the rival rebels plot against each other, Issylt and Zhirin dance the steps of intrigue with Assari Fire mage Asheris Al Seth and his seeming ally Siddir Bashari. They have their own secrets and their own loyalties as well, not all of them obvious. As each faction jockeys for power, spirits of nature and the dead alike are called into service. The book explores themes of nationalism and loyalty, and what costs are acceptable to preserve family or tradition.
The second book, The Bone Palace, follows three years later. Issylt has returned to the Selafain capital of Erishal. Her mentor, Kirilos , has lost the King’s favor, and as his protégé she has not been called upon recently either. Everything changes when she is called in by the vigiles. They have found a royal signet belonging to the late queen on the body of a murdered prostitute. Despite being ordered off the case, she digs deeper into the matter on her own. She finds evidence that the murder and grave robbing are only a small part of a scheme against the Crown she is sworn to serve and the city itself. Her investigations lead her from the sewers below the city to the royal palace, where she allies herself with Savedra Severos, mistress of the Crown Prince. Savedra is a scion of one of the city’s foremost houses and the previous ruling dynasty. As such, she was raised from the cradle to intrigue and politics. Barred from the marriage that they both desire by the fact that she is transgender and unable to bear the Prince an heir, Savedra uses her skills and contacts to defend him and his unhappy foreign wife from assassins and enemies, always afraid that they may come from her own family’s grudges, old and new.
Issylt and Savedra must find a balance between trust, duty, love, and loyalty as obligations pile up as fast as bodies, riot and plague sweep the city, and amidst it all vampires and demons stalk the great and the small alike through the chaos. This book follows themes of family, love, and duty. Characters must balance the ties of family with those of romance, choose between duties and lovers, and come to terms with the aftermath of both deception and honesty with those they love.
The Kingdoms of Dust takes us to the Empire of Assar, where the Ghost Wind blows out of the Sea of Glass. Not seen in a lifetime, it infuses the dreadful sandstorms with necromantic power, and nothing can stand before it. They need a necromancer. One such is Issylt Iskaldur, who has left the city of Erishal with her teenage apprentice Moth in the aftermath of the plot there. They travel first to Iskar, to rescue her old ally Adam from prison. There they are followed by spies an assassins. Many factions in Assar want Issylt, to bind the Ghost Wind, or end it, or to die so that the status quo will remain. The fire-mage Asheris, now advisor to the Empress, calls her in directly, but the wizards of Quietus would recruit her or slay her as she travels. Trailed by a kidnapper and assassin who walks through shadows, they set out across the empty deserts of Assar. Every step is weighted with history, old loves and ancient mistakes. When the secret of the Ghost Wind is made clear, slow death seems the best choice, for any other will slay all that lives. Or is there another option, for one who understands the ways of death and entropomancy? The book deals with themes of choice and necessity, and how people respond when all of their choices are bad ones.