Completed 10/21/2018, Reviewed 10/22/2018
I read this book because it was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, even though it’s the third in a long series. The story is fairly self-contained. There are some characters who appeared as secondary characters in one or both of the first two novels, but you don’t really need to know that to appreciate them. Its world building, however, depends a lot on the history already described in the first two books, which I gleaned from reading synopses and reviews of the first two. Still, it was enjoyable on its own. I didn’t think it was great, but it was a decent mystery-fantasy.
Kai makes idols for people. They are non-sentient entities which people use sort of like talismans. Kai is a priestess and worships them for her clients. The novel opens when one the idols is dying. Kai attempts to save it, but is badly hurt in the process and rescued by her boss and coworkers. She is labeled as unstable because she heard it speak, which these non-sentient idols are not supposed to do. She tries to get to the bottom of this strange occurrence to prove she’s not going crazy and uncovers a plot to keep control of the idol industry in the hands of a sinister force.
The narrative is third person Kai, and interwoven by another perspective, that of Izza. Izza is a young runaway who worships a goddess that apparently has died. She was the storyteller for the goddess for a group of street urchins who are all devastated by the goddess’ death. Eventually Izza and Kai’s paths cross and together they try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the dying idols.
The characterization is good. I liked both Kai and Izza. I got into both characters and the supporting characters were all pretty well created as well. Everyone was believable and didn’t seem cardboard at all. I appreciated that the author created two lead female characters. Kai is actually transgender, though I thought that it was mentioned too passingly. The fact could easily have been missed if you were not reading carefully.
The world building is actually pretty awesome, despite not having read the first two books. The world of gods and idols is very interesting. There was also a form of punishment for criminals called penitence. The criminal is put in a golem-type creature where they are tortured until their will becomes the will of the golem. Called the penitents, they are a sort of strong arm police force that chase after other criminals, bringing them in for punishment.
My biggest problem with the book was that it was a slow burn. It took a long time for plot to kick into gear. The start is supposed to be exciting, but I thought it was confusing. And I was confused during the middle where it made references to Deathless Kings and God Wars. I think that’s where not having been immersed in this world before was really detrimental. The book finally picks up steam in the last eighty pages or so.
I give this book three stars out of five. It was a good mystery within a fantastical world.