SYNOPSIS: Silk Road fantasy. Sarmin’s life has been confined to a tiny room, but as his brother begins to show signs of The Pattern, Sarmin finds himself becoming far more important to the survival of the kingdom.
PROS: Good voice; unique setting; intriguing characters.
CONS: Pacing wobbles at points, and there are tinges of exoticism.
BOTTOM LINE: Definitely worth the read, and looking forward to the next ones.
Born into the lap of luxury, Sarmin’s life changed the night his father died and his eldest brother took the throne. Carried away by a strange man and locked in a room, he breaks a windowpane just in time to see his brothers murdered to ensure a peaceful succession.
A lifetime later, the adult Sarmin paces his world, fifteen by twenty, all silk and gold, soft edges and impenetrable walls. He reads his five books. He is sometimes visited by his mother. Nightmares about his brother haunt him. There is nothing else. He’s a contingency plan, (“I am concerned for the emperor,” his mother says. And then, “I have found you a wife.”)
Meanwhile, in the Wind Reader people of the north, Mesema has been chosen to cement the bonds of war to the south. Leaving the wide open steppes and everything she’s ever known, she will enter a sinister game.
The palace is the center of a struggle for power. Emperor Beyon himself has succumbed to the Pattern, a mysterious disease that tattoos its followers and strips them of their souls. He sits on the throne for now, but his time is limited, because the Pattern Master is growing in strength and force.
Williams’ world is incredible. Heavily influenced by the wealth and intrigues of the historical Middle East, it manages to avoid exoticism. Instead, it feels rich and real and very, very dangerous. There is no sugar-coating, either. Within the luxurious palace, death lurks around every corner. Outside, the city is ruled more by fear of the Pattern than by Beyon.
The characters change and evolve over the course of the story, as well. Perceptions are changed, alliances shift, Things Happen. It isn’t pretty, but it’s believable, and the twists toward the end are genuinely sad. Mesema is a brilliant character, independent and intelligent, without bursting the confines of her culture. She is just coming into her own toward the end of this book though, and I look forward to seeing her grow in future books.