by Hailey Turner
Series: Infernal War Saga #1
Publisher: Hailey Turner
Publication Date: May 2, 2022
Source: Valentine PR
I received an advance review copy of this book from Valentine PR. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Every country is built on revolution.
THE WARDEN. Soren is a nameless, stateless man, tasked with keeping watch over Maricol’s borders. He isn’t meant for politics, only dealing with the dead. His past was buried in the poison fields, but after a fateful encounter with a prince, Soren comes to realize he can’t keep what magic burns inside him hidden forever.
THE PRINCE. Vanya Sa’Liandel was the spare who survived the Houses’ murderous games to become the Imperial crown prince of Solaria. He has a duty to his country, but he’ll owe his life to the wardens. Payment of any kind is costly, especially when he’s at risk of losing his heart to the man who saved his life.
THE COG. Caris Dhemlan hears the siren song of clarion crystals better than anyone in Ashion. That skill for inventing has enriched her bloodline, but it’s who she can become that will ultimately entangle her with the Clockwork Brigade.
THE PRINCESS. Eimarille Rourke should have been raised to be queen of one country; instead, she is prisoner of another. Guided by a star god, Eimarille bides her time in a gilded cage, spinning a political web to gain a throne and start a war the world isn’t ready for.
From the author who brought you the Soulbound series comes a queer steampunk-inspired epic fantasy.
I wasn’t exactly sure what I was expecting when I started this book, but it definitely wasn’t an queer steampunk political intrigue epic with zombies.
It’s the first in a series, so there’s a lot of worldbuilding. Without revealing too much, the land of Maricol is poisoned, and it requires a lot of managing from keeping the poison from encroaching: the work of Wardens, like Soren, people who are tithed by each country and raised to withstand the poison. Why is the poison so bad? Well, it basically turns any living creature it touches into a zombie. The various countries, who agree on basically nothing else, at least all agree that everything possible must be done to keep the poison at bay. And there’s a ton of different countries, all with their own forms of government, customs, and political aims, from Daijal, who wants to take over Ashion, to the houses of Solaria who spend most of their time fighting each other, to the Scottish airship clans in E’ridia. The plot spans quite a large chunk of time, so that characters we see as young children in the beginning are married adults by the end. And, as you’d imagine, quite a lot happens in that time, from betrayals to attempted invasions to flaming thrones to assassination attempts to… I think you get the point. The book is divided into six parts of around ten chapters each, and it took me almost the entire first part before I really started getting into the book.
There’s quite a cast of characters, though I’d narrow it down to five main ones. Soren is a Warden who ends up saving the life of Vanya, the Solarian imperial heir, and pulled into their political intrigue. Soren has secrets of his own, though, ones he can’t bring himself to share even with his lover. Vanya was born into a world of wealth and assassination attempts, and he’s used to getting what he wants, and what he wants is Soren. Eimarille, princess of Ashion, was basically kidnapped by the Daijalans after they assassinated the rest of her family. Old enough to know that she’s a pawn, she’s biding her time and setting plans into place that will end up with not only Ashion but Daijal under her control – and maybe more. Caris is the young, magically-inclined daughter of minor nobility, raised far from the political machinations of Ashion’s capital. She just wants to attend university, but it seems fate – and the Ashion rebels – have another plan for her. Like Eimarille, Blaine is one of the few people who was old enough to remember the assassination of the Ashion royal family, but he’s made a life – and a family – for himself in E’ridia with his husband. Until his past comes calling and he’s forced to reveal secrets he’d rather keep hidden.
Besides the large cast of characters, there’s a lot of POVs. Of course, there’s the main ones – Soren, Vanya, Caris, Blaine and Eimarille – but also Eimarille’s lover/bodyguard/spy/assassin Terrilyn, Caris’ adopted mother, Blaine’s husband, as well as assorted villains. It’s a bit much. There’s one particular chapter – from a minor character at best we never see again – where we’re given information that some of the main characters need to act on later. I don’t understand why that information couldn’t have been relayed in one of the existing characters’ POVs. So little time is spent with some of the characters that I never felt like I developed any real sort of feelings about them, even when they’re being put through the emotional wringer repeateadly.
And let’s be honest: I’m invested in the romantic relationships between the characters more than the political intrigue. It’s very queer. There’s two M/M relationships featured in the book, plus an F/F one and hints of a possible M/F. Soren and Vanya are the kind of starcrossed, it-can’t-be love that I’d expect from an epic fantasy, but there are a lot of tender moments between the two of them that sold me on their relationship. Blaine and Honovi were ridiculously sweet and I loved how clear-eyed they were about the secrets in their relationship. I’m a sucker for the royal/bodyguard dynamic, so I was predisposed to like Eimarille and Terrilyn, though I do wish the most prominent (only?) F/F couple in the book weren’t the villains.
Overall, 3.5 stars rounded up to 4. Between the cliffhanger ending and how much I liked Soren, I’ll be reading the next book. Recommended if you’re looking for an epic fantasy with lots of worldbuilding and don’t mind dealing with a train-load of characters.