While all other industries collapse around our ears, it’s good to know that the market for fantastical books is still healthy: this promising debut (first in the Tower and Knife series) comes from Jo Fletcher Books , which launched in September and is the second new SF/fantasy imprint to appear in recent months.
Eschewing high fantasy’s habitual Euro-medievalesque settings, the pseudonymous Williams conjures a world with strong flavours of the early Ottoman empire (imperial children live in a harem and get bumped off when one of their siblings rises to the throne; slaves are harvested annually from provincial villages), medieval Persia (semi-nomadic horselords trade and raid in the borderlands, and there’s even a grand vizier called Tuvaini, which is only one letter away from the family name of a long line of Persian government officials), and Arabic legend (a reference to the 1001 Nights ' City of Brass).
It makes for a rich and entertaining storytelling environment, and Williams creates a twisty and enjoyable tale centred on a creepy magical plague sapping the strength from the heart of the Cerani Empire. The characters, too, are well drawn: believably ambitious and conflicted individuals who struggle to survive in a maze of tradition and intrigue. Mesema, daughter of a tribal chief sold in marriage to the imperial heir, is a particular highlight, upholding her people’s customs while also adapting to the new. The plotting suffers from a couple of longueurs, but overall, this is strongly recommended.
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