Want it in a nutshell? Prisoners in a Russian gulag find out that the world they were forced to leave has been all but destroyed. And despite having been sent to the ends of the earth for their crimes against the kingdom, and putting in hard time in horrible conditions, they are a bit more reluctant to leave the life they have been able to forge in this land. Lead by a noble who gave up his name when forced out of his old life it may be up to them to keep the world from falling in on itself. For the most powerful magic users in the land have pushed the land to its limit, and destroyed the very power they hold.
A lot of little things to like here, making the story rise above the fairly generic nature of the tale. While stuck in a very medieval fantasy setting (the most generic of the generic) the ice land prison colony is honestly a new setting for me in the genre. Frozen wasteland though it was there was enough life to make it interesting. Lead man Blaine (Mick in this new land) had earned his ticket of leave and built a homestead along with a few other residents. And I will admit that at first I missed that the house was hiding a D&D questing party in its wings; complete with a female rogue skilled in dagger use. Blaine, earning his living on the fishing boats and actually making a life of it despite the animosity of the guards, particularly their leader. For a ticket of leave gets you out of the prison mines, but no one is allowed to leave the colony.
I also liked to see a magic system a bit different from the norm. Magic is everywhere in this land, and while some are more powerful with it than other, a large number of people have just enough to make life easier. They are not wielding the magic that will make the world move, but perhaps crops grow just a bit better, sicknesses are bit less nasty, ships hold up a bit better against rot. Little magics that add up to make a big difference. And when it all falls apart? Chaos. Glorious chaos.
This was a fun story, fantasy in a harsh (but livable) setting. While mostly set in the frozen wastes, when the party does get a chance to move they find living is not any easier in a land of anarchy and random storms of wild magic. Characters were serviceable but mostly just archetypes; the leader, the thief, the rogue (sexy, but chaste, former prostitute because this is a fantasy novel). The pace was a highlight, and background info was actually given in a way that didn’t feel like an info dump. I was enjoying this story quite a bit, digging the vampire side story, and getting pumped about a fantasy land dissolving into warlord rule.
But unless reviews are absolutely raving I have no plans to continue on with the series. Shock! Outrage! Good god man, it sounds like you kinda like this book (and anyone who peeks down can see a four star rating). Why won’t you continue? Because quite frankly I don’t really like where this story appears to be heading. It is fairly apparent that the unique gulag inspired setting the first half of the novel was set in has been left behind. So we are losing the interesting setting and moving to a much more generic one. But more importantly the final reveals toward the end of the book hint at the direction our little quest part is moving and I am not sure I want to play. To save the land, find the eight magic artifacts of something or other and take them to eight separate places of power with the special man of destiny. I like playing video games, rarely do I want to read one.
Fun book, and if it turns the sequel is heading in a much different direction than I thought then I will eat crow and give it a chance too. But for now, one was enough.
Review copy acquired through NetGalley