Silhara is a gifted magician. He is also a deliberate recluse, hiding with his crows, a servant called Gurn and a smelly dog in Neith, an ancient and dilapidated manor surrounded by an orange orchard. He hates other magi, he hates the establishment, he hates the magical Council and it seems the feelings are mutual. However when a forgotten deity, now known as just Corruption, tries to take over his life and body he must get some help fast, hatred or no hatred; he might lose his free will, identity and finally his soul.
Martise is a small, inconspicuous woman with no beauty to speak of, a skilled scribe and a translator. She has been a slave since her childhood, magically gifted but so far nobody has found out what her gift really is. Now her master, Cumbria, offers her a deal she cannot refuse: her freedom for a bout of spying on Silhara while pretending to be just a helpful translator. She agrees of course – who wouldn’t – and soon enough she finds herself among strange people and even stranger, smelly dog, cut off from the entire world, looking among old, dusty manuscripts for a way to conquer an old god.
Silhara has just contacted the magi and officially asked for an assistant, it is a splendid opportunity to plant an informer in his household and discover his nefarious plans. Cumbria is sure Master of Crows actually wants to become Corruption’s avatar in order to destroy his enemies – for a reason or two Cumbria himself occupies a prime position among them. Now Martise is supposed to be his eyes and ears in the foe’s camp; if, during four months of her stay, she gathers enough incriminating evidence to condemn Silhara publicly she’ll be a free woman. One fact Cumbria overlooks: since day one Silhara and Martise can’t help being attracted to each other. How will it end?
What I liked:
At first glance it seemed to be just another fantasy romance book and yet and yet… Grace Draven won me over by creating a vivid magical world but not overly crowded, more or less logical and properly balanced by the romantic thread. Overall it was a character driven story so the fact that I liked the two protagonists helped a lot. The interractions between Martise and Silhara were deftly crafted with ‘key’ moments that moved their relationship along throughout the story, even as they both fought not to ‘go’ there. I liked the fact that they fell slowly yet deeply in love and it was more often than not shown, not told. Apart from that it was a welcome change to read about an unattractive heroine and a poor, struggling hero, a son of a prostitute, who works as a farmer to earn his upkeep even if he is magically gifted.
Overall Silhara started out as an awesome character and he carried most of the book. He was a man who could back his threats up without a problem. I liked him right away for his disregard for authority, witty dialogue, sense of humour and sarcasm. There were a lot of fascinating contradictions to him, like he’s been a thief and murderer and prided himself on being a great liar but his favorite thing in the world was taking care of his orange trees. What’s more Silhara didn’t instantly become selfless and heroic just because he was developing feelings for Martise. At one point he actually even contemplated choosing his own life over Martise’s which was equal parts disappointing and refreshing because it sounded real.
What I didn’t like:
In short sex scenes – some of them anyway. They didn’t work for me mainly because I didn’t understand why the author felt the need to emphasize time and again the fact that Silhara and Martise were so totally perfect for each other in bed. In my opinion it came very close to cheesy. After all Martise was hardly beautiful and Silhara had looks of one, undernourished, black-haired scarecrow (pun intended) so you wouldn’t be impressed unless you love those pale, long-haired Goth types too much. Mind you the fact that they weren’t perfect was their big asset. I’d be far happier if it was kept that way.
Also the ending ritual scene was a bit rushed and, generally, stuck out as if it wasn’t edited and polished like the rest of the book. I failed to understand how Corruption, being such old a god couldn’t figure out how the magicians were planning to trap him. He had an easy access to Silhara’s mind, he knew about Martise’s gift and their mutual feelings and never drew the right conclusions? When it came to the final showdown he proved to be the stupidest and most easily defeated deity ever. Fortunately, after a while, I returned to the cozy, ruined Neith, with Silhara, Gurn and Martise. No cliffhangers, no stupid characters, a bit of HEA but nothing overly sweet. It was a relief.
A novel which surprised me positively more than one time. I would recommend it even though there were some flaws as, at it is the first part of a series (or it seems so) I would like to read the rest as soon as it is available.