Robyn Reviews: As the Shadow Rises

‘As the Shadow Rises’ is the second book in the Age of Darkness trilogy. The five main characters – Ephyra, Beru, Anton, Jude, and Hassan – are dealing with the aftermath of their first battle with the Hierophant and the revelations made. There’s less action than in book one, but this is still an intriguing, tightly plotted book packed with fascinating characters – and the climax is even better than book one’s.

Ephyra – the Graced assassin known as the Pale Hand – has been separated from her sister Beru. The only way to save her sister once and for all is to track down an ancient relic known as Eleazar’s Chalice – but everyone who’s ever gone looking for the Chalice has perished. Ephyra goes searching for the one man who might be able to help her – but the journey is perilous and will require her to put her trust in an old enemy. In many ways, Ephyra reminds me of Rin from The Poppy War – the darker side of morally grey, one step from falling into utter chaos. She’s a horrible person but with good intentions buried deep and a fascinating character to read about.

Beru, wracked with guilt over all the people her sister has killed to keep her alive, has run away to die. Trying to atone, she takes a job as a healer – but when an unexpected acquaintance stumbles across her hideout, with a secret of their own, she decides there might be a better way to assuage her guilt. Beru plays a much larger role in this book than in ‘There Will Come A Darkness’, and while she remains a less interesting personality than her sister she’s a far nicer person. Her ending is incredible and I can’t wait to see what happens to her in book three.

Hassan, the character with the largest role in book one, plays the smallest role here. Now known as the Deceiver, Hassan is disgraced – but as the heir to the throne, he’s still determined to take back his city. Much like in book one, Hassan makes increasingly terrible life choices, but – besides being incredibly cocky – isn’t a bad person.

Jude and Anton’s storyline is the best part of this book. Jude, the Keeper of the World and Captain of the Paladin Guard, is in turmoil. All his life he’s been raised to protect the Prophet – but a member of his Guard has deserted him, his Grace is gone, and he’s broken his own vows to put his duties before all else. Everything is complicated by his growing feelings for Anton. For his part, Anton’s entire world has been upended and he’s being forced to face his worst fears day in and day out. The only person he trusts is Jude – but Jude is hiding from him, keeping secrets, and not offering the same trust back. Their relationship throughout this book is beautifully written. Katy Rose doesn’t shy away from showing the impact of the trauma they’ve gone through – especially Jude, who doesn’t know his own identity without his Grace – but the little moments of happiness and hope she offers are balms in what is regularly a darker book.

It’s difficult to discuss the plot without spoiling book one, but there are adventures, assassination attempts, huge reveals about the magic system and theology, and quests across the country. It avoids all the pitfalls of sequels and manages to tell an engaging story that stands up on its own.

Overall, this is an excellent sequel to a trilogy I wish more people talked about. I can’t wait to see how everything is tied up in book three.

My review of the first book, There Will Come A Darkness, can be found here.

Thanks to Orbit for providing a copy of this book – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Orbit
Paperback: 3rd September 2020

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Robyn Reviews: There Will Come A Darkness

‘There Will Come a Darkness’ is a brilliant fantasy debut. The first book in the Age of Darkness trilogy, it introduces five main characters – Ephyra, Beru, Anton, Hassan, and Jude – each of whom are fighting to stay alive in a world prophesised to fall into ruin. There’s constant tension, a gorgeous Greco-Roman inspired setting, and excellent use of some classic fantasy tropes. This straddles the line between YA and adult – it appears to be marketed as adult in the UK but YA in the US – and would easily appeal to readers of either genre.

The story starts with Ephyra, a Graced assassin known as the Pale Hand. Ephyra uses her abilities to manipulate people’s life force to kill – but only so she can keep her sister, Beru, alive. I adored the complex sibling dynamic between Beru and Ephyra. Ephyra is the ultimate morally grey character, willing to do anything for her sister – but Beru has a good heart and hates what her sister is doing. Ephyra is one of my favourite characters, but not a particularly nice one. Beru’s chapters are in many ways the weakest of the book, but she provides an interesting counterpoint to Ephyra’s actions – a much-needed moral compass. I’m hoping that we’ll see more of Beru in book two, with further development of her character.

In many ways, however, Ephyra and Beru are side characters to what is primarily Hassan’s story. Hassan, the Prince of Herat, has fled his homeland to avoid the persecution his people are facing. Safely ensconced with his aunt, he begins to chafe at how little he’s doing to help his people. He starts to sneak out to a local refugee camp, befriending one of the leaders there – but his entire world is upended when the keepers of a secret prophecy arrive. Hassan is a sweet but incredibly naïve person. He makes mistakes trying to do what he thinks is the right thing and struggles to stand up for himself and what he truly believes. It’s difficult not to root for him – or for his developing relationship – but at the same time, it’s always clear that he’s getting himself and others into situations that could end in disaster.

The other two main characters, Anton and Jude, are at first opposite but in many ways very alike. Jude has been raised to be the next leader of the Paladin, tasked with keeping the last Prophet alive. His entire life has been about duty – but Jude has doubts, and he isn’t sure he’s cut out for this life. Anton, on the other hand, has always found his Grace to be more of a burden than a boon. He’s been on the run from his abusive brother for years and wouldn’t know duty if it stared him in the face – but when it comes down to it, both he and Jude are hardwired to protect others, even at the expense of themselves. Anton’s relationship with his brother is an intriguing counterpart to Ephyra and Beru’s; their interactions were always uncomfortable but made for interesting reading.

The fantasy system of the five Graces is reminiscent of many fantasy magic systems, but magic plays a relatively minor role. Instead, this is character-driven fantasy, focusing on the lives of the five protagonists in all their messy glory. Similarly, the persecution of the Graced by a religious sect known as the Witnesses – led by the mysterious Heirophant – is a fantasy cliché, but one that’s written well and matters less in a character-and-plot-focused novel. I’ll be interested to see if it goes in a more unique direction later in the trilogy, but the well-trodden material didn’t detract from the book’s enjoyment.

Overall, this is an excellent debut and introduction to an intriguing cast of characters. I can’t wait to pick up ‘As the Shadow Rises’ and find out what happens next. Recommended to all fans of YA and adult epic fantasy, especially character-driven fantasy.

Thanks to Orbit for providing me with a copy of this book – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Orbit
Paperback:
3rd September 2019. (The sequel, As the Shadow Rises, was published on the 3rd September 2020)