Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my review in any way and the thoughts expressed are my own.
East must never meet West. The Celendor Empire has conquered the entire Eastern half of the world, erasing all religions and enslaving the people, and the Maarin, the traders that sail across the globe, will protect the secret of the West at all costs. We follow two main characters, Teriana a young Maarin woman, and Marcus the Cel’s best commander. When the Cel threaten Teriana’s entire people, she is forced to lead Marcus’ and his legion to the West. Both Marcus and Teriana are merely slaves to the Cel Senate and if they don’t do as their told they, and everyone they love, will be killed.
The Cel Empire was clearly inspired by the Romans while the West, or at least the region we saw, seemed to be South American. This land was run by various clans who are all ruled by a sadistic Urcon. It was fascinating to learn more about the Aniquinons and snippets of information about the various other lands. Not only are the cultures and people strikingly different from the Cel, they also worship six gods, and some a seventh god of death. Some people are even god-marked, given magical gifts that allow them to do incredible feats, like healing terminal wounds. It was a great comparison between the two and I loved how important it was to the people, especially Teriana.
I really loved the Maarin people, they were an intriguing sea fairing people. They live their entire lives on the sea, travelling between the East and West, their greatest taboo is revealing one side of the world to the other. To do so would make you forsaken by the gods, forever damned to eternal punishment. Though Teriana knows she is damning her soul, she is willing to do anything to save her family and her people. The Maarin have tangible proof the gods exist by their ship’s guardian, Magnius, an enormous sea creature that follows them bellow their ship. I loved how nonchalant they were about this massive creature and he was a great introduction to the magic of this world.
Teriana and Marcus are one of the only ‘forbidden romances’ I loved. It was obvious why they shouldn’t be together, yet they developed feelings for each other, regardless of whether or not they acted on them. Their romance was the definition of a slow burn which only made it all the more captivating any time they were alone together. I just wanted everything between them to be gone and for the two be simply be together!
The soldiers were interesting characters, you knew they were nothing more than slaves yet they had actively helped conquer hundreds of people, but they were still human beings with their own distinct personalities. Teriana wants to hate them, to stop them, but the more she spends time with them, the more she realizes she may actually like them. I personally loved Miki and Quintius, two of Teriana’s bodyguards, they were funny and friendly and their deep love was beautiful. They were a great representation of how many in the Celendor legions, and the real-world Romans, were gay and came to deeply love each other. It was difficult, I knew they were the ‘bad guys’ and needed to be stopped, but just like Teriana, I couldn’t stand the idea of anything happening to these guys I’d come to care for, especially Miki and Quintius.
I loved this book, it’s characters and magic system was interesting and a breath of fresh air. Not to mention it was excellent to have a main character of colour, her long braids full of beads sounded beautiful. I give it 5/5 and am so excited to read the next in this great new series.