by Michael Johnston
Published on June 13, 2017 by Tor
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Michael Johnston brings you the first in a new epic fantasy series inspired by ancient Egyptian history and King Lear.
The ruling family of the Soleri Empire has been in power longer than even the calendars that stretch back 2,826 years. Those records tell a history of conquest and domination by a people descended from gods, older than anything in the known world. No living person has seen them for centuries, yet their grip on their four subjugate kingdoms remains tighter than ever.
On the day of the annual eclipse, the Harkan king, Arko-Hark Wadi, sets off on a hunt and shirks his duty rather than bow to the emperor. Ren, his son and heir, is a prisoner in the capital, while his daughters struggle against their own chains. Merit, the eldest, has found a way to stand against imperial law and marry the man she desires, but needs her sister’s help, and Kepi has her own ideas.
Meanwhile, Sarra Amunet, Mother Priestess of the sun god’s cult, holds the keys to the end of an empire and a past betrayal that could shatter her family.
Detailed and historical, vast in scope and intricate in conception, Soleri bristles with primal magic and unexpected violence. It is a world of ancient and elaborate rites, of unseen power and kingdoms ravaged by war, where victory comes with a price, and every truth conceals a deeper secret.
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Epic fantasy, meet Ancient Egypt. Soleri is the kind of sweeping fantasy you’d expect in the genre but lacked a few key elements that I look for when reading in this genre. Though the world-building is there, it was not fleshed out beyond tidbits here and there that appeared to be in place to spark the reader’s interest. Nor did I find much depth in the characters, five of which we see the world through. But a decent first book in what appears will be a series (or at the very least will have a follow-up book).
Let’s start with the world. Soleri centers around the Soleri (huh, imagine that), godlike beings who rule over the land from behind a wall because no mortal can look upon them without dying. Much of this world has its traditions and faith revolving around the sun (at least at the heart of the empire) while the outlying kingdoms are each given their own special “thing” that sets them apart. And that’s essentially how I felt much of the world-building went: create place, give it something special to use for the entire book to mark it as that place. Some of the descriptions were absolutely lovely and I look forward to more of that in the future from Johnston, but from a bigger picture, it was… lacking.
The same could be said about the characters. We follow the five members of one family as their lives are ripped apart from without and within as the empire falls to the machinations and life-changing discoveries of a few individuals. Once more, each character has their “thing,” some personality trait, some flaw, that identifies them apart from the rest but I couldn’t tell you much beyond that.
There’s Ren, son of the Harkan king and now meant to take the throne as a young teen. His older sister, Merit, who has a whole lot of issues with the rest of her family. Ruthless, that one. Their sister, Kepi, who is the tomboy, rebellious princess. Arko, the Harkan king who isn’t a great king and has a lot to think about in the many pages of this book. And then Sarra, the children’s mother who left to become Mother Priestess. Big deal and all. I think I liked Merit the best, to be honest. She has put a lot of work into salvaging her kingdom and I felt like she deserved more than what she was given.
I tried to think of a comparison title for Soleri and struggled. Compared to some of the larger epic fantasies, it seems watered down, not afraid to show character brutality and deaths but written in a way that I didn’t particularly care when those scenes happened.
The writing style wasn’t captivating. I enjoyed some of the descriptions here and there, and at times I wanted to know more about a particular character but with the alternating perspectives I needed to read through a couple chapters to get back to that person. But I put this book down. Several times.
I’m not quite sure if I would recommend this book just yet. Will wait and see how the next book reads before making that call, to see if it’s worth it. It wasn’t bad though, and if you enjoy fantasy with a different spin than the usual medieval western Europe, give it a go!