(review by Aliette de Bodard)
I came to this cold, more or less (it came heavily recommended by a couple of friends, and I’d enjoyed Sergey and Marina Dyachenko’s fantastic Vita Nostra”, but I had no idea what to expect).
This is the story of Ergert Soll, a braggart and bully who goes one step too far and accidentally kills Dinar, the fiancé of student Toria. Egert finds himself cursed by the Wanderer to be a coward–so swamped by fear he’s totally unable to function. Meanwhile, Toria struggles with the loss of her fiancé; and with the appearance in Egert in her life when the latter comes to the city where her father is the Dean of the University. But all is not well: in the background, fanatics known as the Order of Lash seek to bring about the end of the world; and are ready to do anything for this..
This is a tight, character-driven study of two people and how they cope with loss and fear and the rising madness brought by the Order of Lash. I loved the intimate scenes at the university and how they opened up on a larger world, while remaining intimately focused on Toria/Egert. The theme of redemption is one I’m personally always happy to read, and here I thought it was well done if not 100% surprising (but the catharsis at the climax is wonderful done and had me on the edge of my seat). I expected this to be larger-scale and to deal with the brotherhood of Lash; but I’m really it didn’t–part of why it works is the tight focus, and Egert and Toria both having to make stands. I wish we’d seen more from Toria at the climax; the narrative ends up feeling a little unbalanced. But it’s well worth a read, and it’s quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read.