The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.
The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.
After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board. (Summary from Goodreads) Amazon
Fair warning, I got this book as a Goodreads giveaway. Free books always make me a little more favourable although the fact that the cover was already a little bent and battered when I opened the package didn’t impress me. I expected a new book. Still, it was free.
When I first started reading this book, I started off not particularly liking or rooting for the main character. A self-professed ladies man who was more interested in wine, gambling and escaping from the consequences of his decisions than anything particularly interesting. I had to remind myself that a main character can develop and grow from first appearance so I stuck with it. The fact that he kept getting crap thrown his way (literally sometimes) helped as well.
The plot was interesting. Took a little while to get into it but interesting all the same. Sometimes I think it got so impressed with how many twists and turns in the plot that it didn’t seem to realise that I wasn’t following all the twists. I did enjoy it but if you asked me to recount the plot to you right now, there would be some massive holes.
The world building was excellent. It was a mix of fantasy and historical with Vikings appearing even as the society seemed to be more suited for the 14th century but all set in different countries. There was just the perfect mix of telling the reader enough information so we weren’t lost but not too much that it was one big info dump. The world I managed to follow with no problems at all.
There was one big drawback to the ending I felt. Apart from the frankly depressing ending for Snorri, I really didn’t like what the Lawrence did with Jal. All of his character development seemed to be washed away because the demonic voic in his head persuades him that he doesn’t need to change? Now I’m not objecting to the demonic voice part, that was one of my favourite twists even though I’m still not sure on how, but the fact that with a couple of sentences Jal forgets why he wanted to change his ways in the first place. I wouldn’t like him to change completely, him freely admitting he was a coward even when he kept getting mistaken for brave was the best part of his character for me, but come on. And I have a sneaky suspicion that it’s because the Lawrence wants us to read the other books in the series.
I feel like I’m being harsh in my review here because I did enjoy the book and probably would recommend it. The characters were really interesting even if I wished there were more women in it that weren’t love (or should I say lust) interests or dead. The Red Queen was one off the top of my head, the Silent Sister the other, but even Jal’s cousin got the leering, sex object treatment. His cousin.
I’m going to say three stars. It just doesn’t quite get up to four stars for me.