I liked this book, and my rating reflects it, but I have a few complains as well. Let me start with them. These authors are famous. They have a following counted in millions. They should’ve respected their readers enough to hire a professional editor for this book before they self-pubbed it. Its first sentence has a grammatical mistake in it, the little dreary thing all writers hate, called dangling participle. Here is the sentence: “A man walked into a darkened room, moving on silent feet.”
The clause “moving on silent feet” obviously belongs to the man, not the darkened room, but the English grammar of this sentence says otherwise. I winced when I read that one, but then I’m an editor as well as a writer. I would’ve forgiven a beginner writer, self-publishing her first book, for such a gaffe, but for the Ilona Andrews team, it’s unforgivable, and it was not the only one in the book.
My second complaint is more personal and has no reflection on the book. I expected more romance from this one, but it wasn’t there. This fact might actually make some readers enjoy it more. What was there was excellent characterization – the authors’ staple by now – and a very outlandish world-building. In fact, the world was so preposterous and cockamamie that after the first few pages the reader would either throw away the book or throw away his incredulity and keep on reading.
This series reminded me a little of Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber. There are multiple worlds in Andrews’ universe too, all of them with magic and technology intertwined, and Earth is the only place of neutrality. Certain locations on Earth – the magic inns – have portals to many of those worlds. The Earth’s citizens are unaware of the magic in cosmos all around their little planet, and sometimes on it, and the Innkeepers must make sure nobody suspects a squat.
The protagonist Dina is an Innkeeper. Her inn is sentient and aware, and the two share a magic bond. Dina is a wonderful character, a strong young woman with a dry sense of humor and the heightened sense of honor. Her duty as a magical Innkeeper is to maintain neutrality and integrity of her inn and serve her guests the best she can. She does that and more. The other characters, even the minor ones, are also very distinct and oddly alive, painted with an adept’s precision and surprisingly human, despite their scales/fur/claws/magic/etc.
When an Arbitrator asks Dina to open her inn for peace negotiations between three warring nations, she doesn’t hesitate long. Her inn needs guests – it feeds on their life forces. The Innkeeper also needs guests to pay her very earthy bills. Of course, hosting peace talks between factions that hate each other and have been engaged in a bloody feud for years is risky, but a girl is gotta do what a girl is gotta do.
The negotiations start, the little Irish imp Murphy applies its nasty law left and right, and Dina has her hands full. War axes fly, juiciest insults stream in all directions, poisoners have their way, and magic swirls unchecked. The talks proceed according to schedule, and in the end, a resolution is reached despite the growing body count. Hey, anything is possible in fantasy fiction.
They have magic that could come to the rescue, but even two such inventive master fantasists as Ilona Andrews couldn’t come up with a plausible solution to the war they describe in their tale. Their ending is disappointing because it’s so far-fetched. Despite my firm suspension of disbelief and my love of fantasy as a genre, I didn’t believe their peace treaty. It simply wasn’t true.
Here is a short summary of the original war. There is a small planet in that universe that has huge deposits of a very valuable mineral resource. Three nations want control. They fight. Thousands die. Horrible atrocities are visited on all parties. Everyone lost sons, fathers, families, property. The enemies should be wiped out. Honor should be upheld, blah, blah, blah. And even though they all agreed to the peace talks, everyone lies, cheats, and stalls. Nobody backs down. They’d rather perish gloriously than lose face. And of course, someone stands to benefit from the mass slaughter.
Does it sound familiar to you? It did to me. It reminded me so much of the Middle East situation that I wanted to scream. Unfortunately, in real life we don’t have magic to solve our problems. The Middle East has remained unsolved for decades. Lucky Dina and the rest of this book’s inhabitants. A disturbing thought about a fantasy novel.
I would like to finish this review with a quote. A master manipulator, Dina’s one paying guest, said to her:
“...A typical sentient’s psyche is a spiderweb. Pull on the right thread and you will get the desired result. Praise them and they will like you. Ridicule them and they’ll hate you. Greedy can be bought, timid can be frightened, smart can be persuaded, but the zealots are immune to money, fear, or reason. A zealot’s psyche is a tightrope. They have severed everything else in favor of their goal. They will pay any price for their victory, and that makes them infinitely more dangerous.”
The words echoed some recent events in our world a little too closely for my peace of mind.