Author: Kirby Crow
Rating: 4 stars
Buy Links: Amazon
Received from Publisher
Blurb: Marion Casterline is the highwarden of Malachite, an ancient, beautiful city floating in a shallow sea. In the aftermath of a brutal gang war, there is finally peace in the city, and new life every year through the sacred ritual of Aequora. Through Aequora, exiles, outlaws, and orphans can become citizens of Malachite. This ritual is vital to the city’s survival, because Malachite is populated only by males.
Jean Rivard grew up in the Zanzare slums at Marion’s side. As boys, they were branded into the violent Teschio gangs ruling the criminal underworld of Malachite. Known in the slums as the Prince, Jean became a spy, an assassin, and Marion’s lover. As men, they worked together to destroy the Teschio and crown Kon Sessane as magestros of the city, only to drift apart after the battles were won: Jean to the Black Keep, Marion to the grand halls of the Consolari.
When Marion announces his engagement to Kon’s son, Jean is hurt and resentful. Marion is leaving him and their past behind in every possible way. Marion also believes that he’s starting a new life, but when a charismatic rebel leader kindles a revolt in the slums, he realizes that the only man who can prevent war from devouring the city he loves is his very own prince.
Review: Marion Casterline is the highwarden and he’s going to marry Tris Sessane, the son of the most noble family in all of Malachite. Marion’s former lover, Jean Rivard, doesn’t take kindly to that. Marion and Jean grew up in interesting times. They’ve experienced deprivation and horror the likes of which Tris has never known. Unfortunately, times seem to be becoming interesting once again, and possibly Marion still loves Jean a little. Marion, Tris, and Jean find themselves stumbling into plans within plans. Everyone seems to be hiding something up their sleeve. As an island of only men, Malachite accepts refugees to keep their populations stable. Marion begins to notice some subtle changes in who comes to Malachite. Jean begins to uncover some machinations within the poorer neighborhoods he patrols, and Tris finds himself learning way more about his own family history than he ever wanted to know. These men need to find out to whom they can give their loyalty and love without dying or having it thrown back in their face.
As the first in a series this book contains a lot of world building, backstory, and character introduction. For me, Malachite was a post apocalyptic future Venice. It was a marshy island full of canals with inhabitants who spoke Italian. Malachite is an all male island surrounded by militarily powerful matriarchies. Consequently, Malachite is easy to pick on. No one really respects them, but they’re largely left alone.
The characters in this book were mostly unlikeable and that was awesome. I loved that I didn’t like these guys. Not only did the three main characters have legitimate reasons for their less than pleasant behaviors and attitudes, but so did the secondary characters. Kon, Mika, and Paris were also delightfully unlikeable. It is not often I come across characters who are as complex as these. I understood why Tris had his moments of indecision and brattiness. I understood Kon’s obsessive need to keep his son safe. I understood Jean feeling as though everyone had either thrown him away or been stolen from him. These characters had painful and on occasion torturous experiences and were allowed to act damaged because of them. Most compellingly, they still felt a strong need for a human connection, and I wanted them to get it. In a lot of ways this was largely a character driven novel, and the characters are fascinating.
There are major conflicts brewing as of the end of this story. Everyone is safe-ish as of now. The biggest conflicts will be when people have to define for themselves loyalty and family. What is an appropriate secret to keep and what is appropriate secret to tell? Marion, Tris, and Jean have some disturbing truths in their romance. Adding Paris, Kon, and Mika to the mix, with their respective secrets and histories, will make for compelling reading.
This review is vague and meandering in part because a lot of this book was world building and introduction, in part because a lot of the story was character driven, and because I don’t want to spoiler. Overwhelmingly it is the characters that are best part of this story. Much like Malachite they are complex and damaged. A modern thing built upon the ruins of what once was and could have been.