A gripping murder-mystery fantasy thriller with great characters, exciting twists and turns and a fleshed-out world.
Author: Darian Smith
Solve a murder, stop a war, save the world. Sir Brannon Kesh spent years building a new life as a physician and leaving the name Bloodhawk (and the wartime reputation that went with it) behind. But when the King’s cousin is murdered, duty calls him back.The crime scene suggests dark magic and evidence points to the ambassador of Nilar, an alluring woman with secrets of her own and a view of Bloodhawk as little more than a war criminal. As bodies pile up and political ramifications escalate, Brannon must join forces with a vain mage, a socially awkward priest, and a corpse animating shaman to solve the murders and prevent another war. But who can he trust when the phases of a bigger plan fall into place? The Risen are the greatest danger Brannon has ever faced. If he and his team cannot stop the killer, then all of Kalanon – and the world – will descend into darkness.
First, I have to point out that I received a free ebook copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review and this in no way affects my evaluation.
Let me start off by saying that this is a fantastic book. It’s a fantastic book that I initially had reservations about from the synopsis. A murder mystery wasn’t really ever the type of thing I’d be interested in, and doubted it could work in a fantasy setting.
As it happens, it had me hooked. From the start you’re trying to pick up clues and work out who’s involved and without spoiling anything, there’s two or three times towards the back third of the book where you applaud a twist in the tale and think it’s all wrapped up, only for a further shock to reveal itself. And I don’t mean shocks for shock value, I mean carefully orchestrated developments that are apparent when you go back and check certain points of the story for clues. The fantasy setting really helps flesh out the world and add nuance to the typical murder mystery thriller at the heart of the book. I like the little things and I especially liked the canine wards the mage Draeson sets at the inn. Painted on the lower half of the doors to the characters’ rooms, the dogs of different breeds bark when an intruder approaches, functioning as an alarm system.
The fantasy setting also gives the possibility for more inventive techniques to both evade capture and for other characters to attempt to solve the riddles placed in front of them.
The main POV character that we follow and the driving force behind this problem solving is Brannon, the King’s Champion known as Bloodhawk due to his expertise in war. Now a physician too, the underlying story looks at his need for redemption and his desire to pay back some of the lives taken during the war with Nilar. The war takes place seven years before the events of the book and is an underlying theme throughout as the nation of Kalanon balances on a tentative and fragile peace.
Usually with an ensemble cast of characters, many books struggle to keep all of them interesting, with some of the more unique characters often standing out well ahead of others. Something that really stood out was how intriguing all of the characters were; they all have motives, depth of character and are genuinely interesting to read about as their backstories flesh out. They all too have a role to play, even many of the seemingly minor characters. This again helps to make the story and the world feel real and the characters we meet significant.
Kalanon’s Rising is a finalist in SPFBO 5 and although I haven’t read all of the others, I can see this is fully deserving of a place in the final. It’s well written with professional prose, the magic isn’t overdone but really enhances the story when used, it feels unique and refreshing and the twists and turns were a real thrill. I loved the story and throughout enjoyed reading it.