An Ill-Fated Sky by Darrell Drake

This book releases this weekend, go pre-order now (well, not now … wait until you read this).

An Ill-Fated SkyAn Ill-Fated Sky

by Darrell Drake
Series: A Star-Reckoner’s Legacy, #2

eARC, 327 pg.
2018

Read: March 28 – 29. 2018

Honour, at all costs.

So steadfast in its pursuit, Tirdad had never stopped to consider that anything that had to be done at all costs, shouldn’t be done at all. For all his talk of moderation, he had never thought to apply that to honour.

Only now did it dawn on him.

I probably can’t get away with just telling you all to go buy and read this — and the first, too, if you haven’t. So I won’t try. But that’s the takeaway from this.

I’d imagine it’s quite a trick taking a very carefully plotted stand-alone novel and turning it into the first of a trilogy, and I’m often nervous about reading something like that — not so much that I wouldn’t enjoy the new book, but that it’ll take something away from my appreciation for/memory of the stand-alone. Drake has succeeded in making the book feel like something he’d planned all along and a natural outgrowth of the first novel. I can’t bring myself to talk about the events of A Star-Reckoner’s Lot in any more detail than I can the events of this book, which might make some of this awkward, but let’s give it a go…

Tirdad’s cousin has tried to resurrect herself, but the way she died prevented it, instead her memories, her abilities have attached themselves to Tirdad’s sword. He’s now a powerful planet-reckoner (who doesn’t really understand how to use his newfound power). Where some would use this as an opportunity for laughs, Drake keeps things grim and shows what happens when someone wields impossibly great power without the requisite knowledge — disaster ensues. After healing from his wounds, Tirdad sets out to understand just what happened to his cousin, what drove her to the extremes she took. Along the way, he helps and old friend and the King of Kings wage war, has some adventures, kills supernatural creatures that far outclass him, and tries to move on with his life.

A good chunk of this book is just about understanding the last novel — what really happened, what motivated the actions of all the major characters. But it’s not just a rehash, nor a revision of the book. It could probably even be read by someone who hadn’t read A Star-Reckoner’s Lot with little difficulty. But all that is in the midst of the adventuring — and the plot turns and twists enough to keep you guessing as much as Tirdad. This time, the turns weren’t quite as extreme as before, but they were still jarring — and honest, he doesn’t trick you here, everything is justified and supported by what came before.

There’s a sense in which this novel isn’t the fantasy adventure, but a profile of a hero. Or at least a good man. Not just any hero, but a particular one, Tirdad, the ways that his life, his choices, his family and friends shaped him into the person he is and what that looks like action. Particularly when it comes to the way he treats those he loves — and his enemies.

Tirdad, of course, isn’t the only character in the book. The half-div/half-human we met previously as Waray is back, too. When writing about the first book, I’d said: “The banter, the bickering, and friendship between Tirdad and Waray is one of those things that will attract you to this book” — that that’s the core relationship of this novel. What was strong before is now at the forefront — and the reader wins. I loved Waray going into this, and love her all the more now as I’ve got a much better understanding of her past and what makes her tick.

The ending features one of my favorite cliff-hangers in quite a while, to boot.

From start to finish, Drake immerses you in this wonderful world he’s created, with a magic system and mythology so foreign to most of us that it’s great to dive in and experience. The characters are rich and well-drawn, and you feel for them all.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author in exchange for this post — I appreciate him saving me the money, but it didn’t alter what I said about this book.

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4 1/2 Stars

A Star-Reckoner’s Lot by Darrell Drake

This book releases this weekend, go pre-order now (well, not now … wait until you read this).

A Star-Reckoner's LotA Star-Reckoner’s Lot

by Darrell Drake
Series: A Star-Reckoner’s Legacy, #1

Kindle Edition, 294 pg.
Darrell Drake, 2016

Read: September 22 – 26, 2016


There are few phrases sweeter to readers than “Stand Alone Fantasy.” Sure, most of us really get into series, but the chance to dive into a world and know that there’s a narrative conclusion just a couple of hundred pages away? There’s something very appealing about that. Throw in a world pretty much like nothing you’ve come across before? Sign me up.

Drake brings us into a world of pre-Islamic Iran — full of social mores that are just as foreign to Western readers as anything that the most imaginative novelist could invent, along with a magic system, a belief system, and a host of supernatural beings that are equally novel. Sure, there’s apparently a decent amount of historical research undergirding the fiction — but just coming up with the idea to base something in this world and to do the research will inspire confidence.

Ashtadukht is a star-reckoner for the King of Kings. A star-reckoner is a magic-user who can harness the power of constellations — the power of stars — to perform their magic. Primarily, their duty is to attack divs, demon-like beings at war with humanity. Ashtadukht (this name makes me so glad for copy and paste, incidentally) is a pretty capable (with some provisos) star-reckoner, but has a reputation for being a bit too lenient with some divs. She doesn’t fight the reputation, but when you see the way she deals with a few divs, you start to wonder what it’d look like if she wasn’t lenient.

At some point, her father becomes concerned for her safety and recruits her cousin, Tirdad, to act as her bodyguard. Before this, he was one of the King’s elite soldiers and can do some pretty heavy damage to a div himself. I really liked Tirdad — his growth throughout the novel, his character, his sense of humor, etc. — I really liked this guy. You’ll likely have a similar reaction. He and Ashtadukht have known each other since childhood and act like it — they know the secrets, the tells, the hearts of the other in a way that only old friends can. It’s easy to believe that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep his cousin safe and successful.

The other part of their party is Waray — she’s a problematic character for some, but man, I liked her. She has some verbal tics — running words together, defining things and people as “šo” this and “šo” that (and just uses the ‘š’ in place of an ‘s’ — see my Q&A with Drake for more). Ever since Gurgi in The Prydain Chronicles, I’ve enjoyed the annoying not-totally-human characters (especially those obsessed with food). I think she’s a hoot — and more, there’s a darkness to Waray, to her past and present — along with her loyalty and her penchant for odd pranks.

The banter, the bickering, and friendship between Tirdad and Waray is one of those things that will attract you to this book beyond the setting and plot. The three of them are a great team, a great found-family, watching their relationship is infectious and utterly believable — you can feel the affection they have for each other, and don’t need to be told about it. There are fantasy novels when you’re told that the characters are old friends and you just don’t believe it (or only believe it because it’s mentioned every couple of pages) but here, you see it develop and grow and have no doubts.

The novel follows the trio all over Iran dispatching a div here and there, hunting for the killer of Ashtadukht’s husband (a div) and struggling against her failing health. There comes a point where things evolve past the “monster of the chapter” structure and everything is really tied together — but I can’t get into it without ruining things. It’ll leave your jaw inches from its typical place and the whole book gets more intense from there.

Drake almost never info-dumps, he drops you into this world and lets you figure out what a star-reckoner does, what a div is, etc. Yes, almost every question is answered eventually — but by the time he spells it out of you, you’ve pretty much figured it out on your own. I loved that. There’s a humor, a heart — and some really disturbing violence — throughout this book. The book is sometimes challenging to read, but always rewards the effort. It’s not a perfect book — but it is so satisfying that you overlook it’s shortcomings. I can’t say I enjoyed everything that Drake did in the last few chapters — but I can’t fault him for them. It’s not the ending I wanted, but it’s the ending the novel needed.

I’m afraid I’ll overuse the word imaginative if I tried to describe what Drake has done here in the depth I want to. You haven’t read a fantasy novel like this one before — almost certainly, anyway — but you should.

Besides, anyone who works a Samuel L. Jackson reference into a book about pre-600 AD Iran deserves a read, right?

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author in exchange for this post.

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4 1/2 Stars