Basically, I struggled through the first third, thought the next third was ok, and ended up liking the last third of the book.
Yet, I found that parts of the ending did leave me haunted by the fates of a couple of the protagonists so I did care at least a little about them by the time I was finished… even if I was tempted to put this one down for good several times. The prose was spare with some concise yet vivid descriptions.
Infodumps are kept to a minimum, and Downum throws readers right into the story without explaining every little detail of the backstory. Background information is slowly revealed, which is a style I personally prefer to knowing a bunch of details about the world and characters right up front.
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I did not find the actual story held my attention at first. Although I do like politicking and spying, I thought the plot moved rather slowly in the beginning. Although it never made me feel like I knew the characters, some of them were likable enough. Even though she had good reason for it with the death of her family long ago, Xinai was a bit too cold-hearted for my taste, particularly since I never felt like I was seeing underneath the surface of her character. However, I liked Zhirin and Isyllt and was very intrigued by the powerful, mysterious mage Asheris.
Zhirin was idealistic and naive but also sweet and courageous.
Kingdoms of Dust
She could have easily been spoiled with her upbringing but she was quick to jump in and help out her cause. Isyllt was the main character and was therefore the one who was developed the most. Her experiences made her colder and pragmatic than the young Zhirin, yet she also had past sorrows that made her sympathetic.
As a necromancer, she was feared and that made her a bit of an outcast. Downum is not easy on her characters in the tradition of more realistic fantasy instead of the kind where everyone lives happily ever after. They are not invincible, and by the end of the book most of them have had it pretty rough.
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