This book is guaranteed to drag you into the story, throw you around violently, make you tear your hair out, and leave you panting for the next installment.
It's about 3 siblings whose father, the Emperor, has been assassinated. But these siblings are not living lives of luxury. 10 years earlier, the eldest son and heir Kaden was sent to a harsh monastery to learn the arcane skills necessary for him to be emperor. The second son Valyn was sent as apprentice to the vicious airborne fighting troup, the Kettral. And the daughter, Adare, stayed in the palace to be learn the politics of kingship.
The chapters alternate between each of the siblings until the final denouement. Each of their situations is fascinating and desperate as they soon learn that their father has been killed and that powerful forces are trying to kill them too.
The three settings are imaginative and full of detail and hardship. The Shin Monastery is isolated and the methods the monks use to bring their students to enlightenment are extreme. I was angry with Kaden's mentor Tan and questioned all the time what was supposed to be gained by the abuse heaped on Kaden.
Valyn seemed almost incompetent in his constant defeats and setbacks with the Kettral. I could feel myself grinding my teeth with frustration whenever his POV came round. Adare too is in a difficult situation, surrounded by power-hungry, misogynistic ministers and seemingly foiled again and again by her father's murderer.
On the negative side I found it very hard to believe that the Emperor would send his sons, particularly his heir to such abusive places. And also the way the leaders and mentors in Kaden's and Valyn's lives failed to support them, and disbelieved them when the truth was plain to see, was so frustrating. It continued right up to the end of the book and many times I was practically yelling at them while I was reading.
The twist with Adare at the end is something I never saw coming. (Although I don't believe it. I think she's being manipulated again.) I'm hoping that Flea will realize what's going on and support them but going by past experience, I doubt that any of the older people in power in this story will do the right or sensible thing. I also wonder what happened to Kaden's fellow student (Advii - may have spelled that wrong). I don't believe he was killed at the monastery. I think his anti-authoritarian attitude is somehow crucial to the story.
To use a cliché, this is a roller-coaster ride of a book. I loved the hints of ancient civilisations and the intrigue. I thought the pacing and writing was great (apart from a pet peeve I have about using 'off of' in fantasy novels). The tension was incredible right throughout. The pay-off when the siblings eventually do triumph is intense. I wanted to scream with relief and shout, 'Finally!' When is book 2 coming out???
Oh and here is a link to the map. I find it hard to read maps on my kindle.