*I received a copy of this book from the publisher. This has not influenced my review.*
I have to admit it took me a good percentage of the book to really get into it—the world was confusing at first and the seven or so POVs made it hard for me to connect with the characters—but eventually, as the story really got going and focused more on Rowena, the Alchemist, and Anselm, I got more into it and found myself wanting to keep reading.
By the time I finished, my favorite thing about this book was the three main characters. Rowena was a scrappy, willful, street-smart orphan. The Alchemist has done some things in his past that were not ok, but he was very sweet and fatherly to Rowena, despite his stoic nature. Anselm was kind of an asshole, but entertainingly and charmingly so. And by the end of the book, I was rooting for this strange little group of allies. I also loved the dynamic between the three main characters and seeing how it evolved as the story went on into a sweet little found family.
Another thing—I appreciated that the author didn’t try to sugarcoat or downplay the selfish and negative aspects of any of the characters. Most of them weren’t great people, and the author just presented them as they were without making excuses for their behaviors. There were reasons and motivations and sometimes good traits and behaviors in addition to the bad, but not excuses. And that only makes it that much better that I still liked some of them anyway.
The world was bit hard to get a grip on—kind of an odd mix of time and place and real and fantasy—but there was a lot of uniqueness and detail in it. (Note: I thought this was high fantasy when I read it, but after reading the second book I realized it’s kind of an alternate Earth.) There were groups with different religious beliefs, a whole society and backstory, and a few different types of creatures: humans, lanyani (basically living trees), and aigamuxa (monstrous humanoid beings with eyes on the bottom of their feet). There was even a bit of a steampunk feel. And the premise of there being nine people chosen by God to help him gather data for his experiment, in order to decide whether humanity was worth, is one that I’ve certainly never seen before.
The plot had a complex mystery/conspiracy element to it involving the above-mentioned book with God’s notes. It was fairly slow-paced for a while, with the occasional bout of action, but it got more interesting as it went on and picked up some speed near the end.
So overall, as I said, this book took me a while to get into, but, by the end, I was hooked and looking forward to spending more time with this strangely lovable team of street urchins and ex-mercenaries!
Anyone who likes alternate Earth fantasy worlds, scrappy underdogs, ex-mercs with soft sides, and cute character dynamics.