Genre: fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, romance
Between the living and the dead stands a powerful guardian…
“It was good weather for a riot.”
Oh, you know this is going to be good, like when the cops walk into the restaurant hosting your college graduation celebration, and you tell everyone to sit back down for the show.
This book is set on the continent of Arkaym. Previously there has been some political unrest, and the people of outlying towns are miserable, desperate, resigned and starving. You can just imagine the turmoil already in place. The princes of the land requested an Emperor to rule over Arkaym. The Emperor is housed in Vermillion Palace, in the City of Vermillion, which also serves as the headquarters (Mother Abbey) of the Deacons (people with supernatural capabilities) throughout the continent. An interesting note: the royals can influence the Order (Deacons as a whole), but do not control it. The Order ranks higher than any royal, even the Emperor.
Deacon Sorcha Faris is the primary character of the book. She’s ballsy; she actually wants a riot, she smokes cigars. She has been a Deacon for 18 years. She has supernatural powers, and is an Active. Her job is to guard against signs of an uprising, but it is also her calling. There are two worlds – theirs (the real world) and the Otherside. The Otherside is a world that contains all manner of ghostly, beastly creatures, spawn of evil. Actives and and Sensitives can see and feel what’s going on in the Otherside and when Otherside creatures come into their world, but in the real world those without supernatural capabilities can’t sense these things. However, there are witches and warlocks that also practice the supernatural who are either not trained or are untrainable by the Abby (kicked out of their Deaconship). While there is political unrest in the country, it is also among the Deacons: there is a generational movement of Enlightenment occurring where the younger Deacons believe that the witches and warlocks are just as entitled to use the Otherside as the Deacons. STRANGER DANGER!!
Sorcha works with her husband of eight years, Kolya. Kolya is a Sensitive, the opposite of an Active and with different (and considered) lesser powers. Their titles say it all: the Actives are the go-getters of the group, and the Sensitives are the ones who feel out and assess a situation with powers unknown to the Actives. Each partnered pair of Actives and Sensitives share a bond, enabling them to share thoughts through their Centers. But lately, Sorcha and Kolya’s marriage has been icy. Kolya deals more directly with the people, planting himself right in the middle of mortal danger. Sorcha is barely able to save him from “the unliving,” a creature that has come through a portal that’s been opened from the Otherside. It is unlike any unliving ever documented before in the 300 years of their Order. It can read their thoughts, and it also possesses people (usually the sick and ailing).
The more interesting element of this incident is that Sorcha doesn’t save him because she loves him, or because he’s her husband. She saves him because “the other Actives would never let her hear the end of it.” In doing so, she uses a tool of the Actives – the Gauntlets. They are like leather gloves and each one is carved with one of the Runes of Dominion – flashy powers even the ungifted can see. Just as an Active has powers from the Gauntlets, a Sensitive has powers from the Strop – which is a bigger deal than the Gauntlets, and rarely used.
Due to the uncanny abilities of this geist – this unliving (terms can be used interchangeably) – Sorscha uses one of the runes that is very powerful and very dangerous…and must pay the consequences. Her husband is in a coma, and she is saddled with a new partner…for the fifth time! The girl’s earned a reputation if you know what I mean, and not just for being the strongest Active of the Order.
Meanwhile, we meet Raed, the Young Pretender. If you really want to shock him, you might use his full title: His Highness, Lord Raed Syndar Rossin, Second Vetch of Ostan and Heir of the Unsung. I don’t know what any of that means, but we learn that his father had ties with Prince Felstaad’s father, and he has been exiled for some reason. Raed is the heir to the Empire, and is trying to reclaim it. And there is a price on his head, naturally being the arch enemy of the Emperor. Due to some intense family heritage and a deal made with the devil (or the Rossin, Otherside creature of the sea in this case), Raed has been cursed – and it’s quite an evil curse at that! You wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy, I’ll just say that.
Raed has called on Prince Felstaad for aid in repairing his ship – basically his only accessible possession. Felstaad is a calculating man, and uses Raed to serve his wont. He sends Raed to Ulrich, the uppermost area of his lands, where the winter (which has already begun) is harsh and only the natives of the area reside. Felstaad of course has ulterior motives – to monitor the area. The area is near a bridge built by the Emperor to bridge the “vast distances of the continent” with a port for the Imperial Dirigibles. Unusual visitors might come forth with this new medium of transportation….
As consequence for her actions, Sorcha is partnered with Deacon Merrick Chambers, a young novice Sensitive, and they are bound for Ulrich – the focus of some vicious and unusual, unprecedented attacks, just as Sorcha and Kolya faced. Merrick, although a youngster in the world of Deacons, doesn’t believe in deceiving people. He has strong morals and values. Ironically, he was raised an aristocrat, yet he finds them pretentious. Due to a very important childhood incident, Merrick is scared of Sorcha and her infamous powers.
Before setting sail for Ulrich, Merrick and Sorcha encounter an unusual guest, Nynnia, daughter of a physician to Deacons, who joins their party. She is an important game-changing player in this book. Through one of these macabre geist run-ins, Raed stumbles across Merrick and Sorcha, with Nynnia, out at sea. Based on Merrick’s abilities and assessments of these attacks, he determines that a human is causing the attacks – they are calling beings from the Otherside! Ruh row, Scooby.
Throughout this journey, the author continually feeds the reader into the mystery of discovering the identity of the one in cahoots with the Otherside. Suspicious remarks, looks and thoughts are strewn everywhere. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out – WRONG! Ballantine throws a sidewinder, knocking down your reasoning. So each time a character is removed from suspicion, you start building up for the next one who seems odd in this grand scheme that’s unraveling. And then you get the Alice in Wonderland feeling: things are not as they seem. Indeed, things are not right at all in Ulrich, let alone within the Priory, containing a Prior (head Deacon), Deacons and lay Brothers, sworn to protect the people. It seems the newly formed gang has fallen into a neat little trap.
Dark things are at work, and Sorcha and Merrick, and even Raed, must go against everything they’ve been brought up and trained to do…to save the entire country. They find there are some well-hidden secrets within the Abby and the Order. Needless to say, their world is turned upside down.
Ballantine has written a riveting story combining many popular elements: magic, supernatural, multiple dimensions, beasts, social and political strife, power struggles, ghosts, souls. But starting off was a hard read – I didn’t know what any of the terms meant, or how they all fit together. You don’t really understand what they are until halfway through the book, and even then you don’t know for sure exactly how to describe a Center, or what it does, to someone else. That is the one flaw that I saw in Ballantine’s writing; there is no introduction, no getting your feet wet and testing the waters. It’s full on BAM!
In terms of how the book is structured, this is the closest I can come to describing it: it’s as if there’s a giant puzzle, and Ballantine is tantalizingly and ever-so-slowly giving the reader a small puzzle piece at each twist and turn to complete the picture, and even at the close of the book, there are still missing puzzle pieces….or maybe, just maybe, it’s a puzzle within a larger puzzle. Interesting thought.
Despite that, it was an excellent read and I am craving continuing the series. She creates such a strong vision of the world (quite similar to Rowling doing so with the Harry Potter series), with strong characters and incredible details that consume the readers in such a way as to put them into the story (which I strongly felt when reading Hunger Games). It will definitely have you coming back for more.
I’m a quotes person, and these two quotes from the book stood out to me…
An honest man in a dishonest world could be a very powerful thing.
They all had scars and injuries – it came with being an adult, messy and awkward as that could sometimes be.
You can continue reading Ballantine’s Book of the Order saga with Spectyr and Wrayth.