I honestly can’t think of a better treat than a Nicole Kimberling sci-fi book. I was of two minds to read this because it’s a sequel to a book that was published four years ago so although I read that book I can’t remember a single detail about it sadly. While I was really excited to delve into this, I worried that I’d be lost since I couldn’t remember anything from the previous book. Thankfully I don’t think you need to since the story flows easily enough without encountering any big gaps. No doubt reading and remembering the previous book will enhance enjoyment and understanding of this one, I think anyone new to the series can read it just fine. I certainly enjoyed it immensely despite my lack of remembered knowledge.
The story focuses Grand Magician Drake and Lord Adam Wexley with a side story involving Thomas Myrdin and Karl Alton. I think these characters all played prominent roles in the previous book but thankfully the story fills in important details so readers can catch up. Thomas is the new guardian of the city and Drake’s ward and has a premonition about foreboding danger. Drake is bound to the West Court and must do their dirty magical deeds, despite his hatred and reluctance. When Karl’s human body is stolen, Adam asks his ex-boyfriend Drake to find the body thus involving all four in a complicated political plot among the nobles of the four courts.
First of all the science fiction world created is really impressive. It’s got incredible depth, nuance, insight, and a nicely shaded area of gray involving various ethics. In this world souls are a commodity and often disembodied from their human body and placed into animals for a variety of reasons. These could be anything from paying debt to punishment to job opportunity. One of the main characters, Karl, is Adam’s driver and currently inhabiting an orangutan. However when his contract is up, Karl discovers his human body is stolen and thus begins the start of a complicated plot for political power. The details of the souls and disembodiment are incredible. The imagination used makes this alternate life come alive and leap off the pages.
Likewise, the plot is well crafted. The author nicely gives needed background information all throughout the book so I was never lost as to what happened earlier and how it affects current events. The political grabs for power among the nobles is both predictable – thus believable – and interesting enough to keep me guessing. The gray area of ethics on just about every topic makes for numerous potential villains, although many of these do feel one sided. They’re the typical court nobles, obsessed with power, money, and wielding both. I didn’t particularly find any of these, including the king, to be well rounded or that nuanced but the story is complex enough not to really need the added detail.
In contrast the main characters are fully fleshed out and wonderfully drawn. Sometimes the issues between the men are resolved a little too easily for my liking. I felt Drake had good reason to be mad at Adam and he took him back pretty easily and quickly. I found myself siding with Thomas on that score. Similarly, Karl’s missing body question is resolved pretty fast and while there is a good reason for this, I felt like some threads were left dangling on the rush to move to the next plot point. However these are pretty minor points in a very engaging and absorbing story that kept me reading well longer than I meant to.
The writing is simply wonderful. The imagery, use of description, elegant and crisp prose, well crafted and definitely nuanced characters, and an intricate plot that is easy to follow while being maze like is an impressive feat. The additional world building feels both familiar and wholly new as it is constantly being developed. Subtly details of magic, lore, and rules of the kingdom are deployed throughout the book in a natural and organic fashion. This gives the feel of a fully crafted world exposed to the reader bit by bit versus made up rules to fit the needs of the story.
I’m eager to read more stories within this world, whether they star these fun characters or not. I only hope it happens, if it ever does, before another four years passes and I forget how unique and talented this story really is. I definitely recommend this and it’s a book I will read again. I’m itching to go back and read the first one too.