When it comes to a new fantasy series, I have a love hate relationship. I love being in on something from the inception, and getting to read something great before everyone has read it. At the same time, publishing can be slow, and sometimes I read the first book in a series only to wait more than a year for the sequel. With ENEMY, by K. Eason, it’s the best of both worlds. It’s a great debut that people are going to be talking about, and the sequel is set for release in July, 2016, so there’s more to come soon. I’ll be grabbing the next one the day it comes out.
This isn’t fantasy for beginners. If you’re not a regular reader of the genre, I wouldn’t recommend this as a starting place. Because while it’s excellent, you won’t find a simple good vs. evil story here. There are no easy heroes and villains. This is rich, complex, and realistic world building with societies, religions, social-classes, and self-interest all in conflict. If you love the worlds created by authors like Hurley and Jemisin, you’ll feel right at home in the Illhari Republic with ENEMY.
The world is the thing that really makes this book special. There are two opposing magic systems, both with their strengths and weaknesses. They both have risks. Costs. On one side there’s academy trained, science-based magic. It’s reliable, but only functions in certain areas. In the wilds, it creates backlash, which can be unpredictable and deadly. On the other side there are the god sworn. They have potentially more powerful magic, but rely on the changing moods of their deities, which can also turn deadly. Add to that the fact that the gods have their own agendas, and sometimes oppose each other, and it creates a complicated, wonderful mess.
The opposition of the science-based and deity-based powers appears to be cyclical, and the cultures associated with those magics rise and fall in parallel. The god sworn fell out of power some two centuries ago, but now are back on the rise and ready to reclaim what they lost. But this isn’t the Empire versus the Rebellion. It’s not good versus evil, and there’s no clear villain. It’s more like Game of Thrones, where everyone wants power, and will do whatever they can to get it without much care for who they oppress or hurt along the way. Internal to each side of the conflict are the highborn and low, the rich and the poor, the honest and the corrupt. The main characters find themselves drawn into this broader conflict, like it or not.
Snow and Veiko don’t like it at all. That’s one of my favorite things about the book. They’re both loners, and like most loners, they’d much rather that the world just left them…well…alone. They don’t have any particular fondness for either side, but as much as they try to avoid it, the world insists that they take part.
Snow is a half-breed assassin with ties to an underground mafia, proficient with knives and magic. Veiko is an outcast who wields a big axe and learns he can speak to the dead. Thrown together by several different factions, the two individuals, for the first time, find someone else they can trust. It’s rare to find a platonic male-female relationship in fantasy, and it’s refreshing here (though fans are going to want to ship them by the half-way point). Over time these two individuals who look out for themselves find that they’ll sacrifice anything to protect the other. They’re partners. As I was reading, it reminded me of sort of a Mulder/Scully vibe. I can’t think of a better M/F platonic partnership in fantasy.
Together, they form a new side in the conflict. Their own. They play competing powers against each other, when they can, fight them when they have to. They form alliances with enemies. Whatever it takes.
The book has a unique voice. Each point of view has some quirks that take a minute to get used to, but ultimately enrich the story. The book moves with outstanding pace, but it took me about 15 pages before I got comfortable with the cadence of the writing. But that’s part of what makes it great. It’s not ‘just like everything else.’ Far from it. It’s unique, while still maintaining a solid tie to traditional fantasy. A great combination.
If this was a movie, it would be rated R for language, some violence, and one rape threat.
I’m not a big fan of putting star ratings on reviews, but if I did, I’d give this one 5 of 5. This book is great. If you like rich, complex fantasy with a side of grit, then you’re going to love it. I know I did.
Disclaimer: I paid for this book. It was my idea to write the review, and I got nothing for it.