Gnochi Gleeman is not like other entertainers. Because of his expansive knowledge of pre-apocalyptic Earth, the stories he tells are valued well beyond the flashes of an illuminator, or the spheres of a juggler. Gnochi spent the first decade of his career telling stories while traveling between taverns, inns, and any hole-in-the-wall which would feed him.
Cleo, a young teen from across the ocean, flees from her chaperone into the woods of an unknown land. During her first months journeying through eastern Lyrinth, she discovers something life-changing about herself. With that discovery comes the knowledge that her life is in grave danger.
Despite a love for the open road and a thrill for telling new audiences about the lost age, Gnochi chooses to retire and focus on curating his family’s hidden library of first-age texts. But the fates would not grant Gnochi the boon of a peaceful retirement. Not long after settling down, he learns that his sister and niece have been kidnapped, and in order to free them, he must assassinate the land’s ruling monarch.
On the path to murder, Gnochi runs into Cleo and the unlikely duo seek safe passage to Lyrinth’s capital among the dilapidated tents of a traveling menagerie.
All the while, people across the world are beginning to prepare for the once-in-a-decade winteryear. These winteryears, one of the echoes of the first age still present in the current world, have been ravaging the Earth since it awoke from its eternal winter and recovered from its near destruction thousands of years ago. Will proper preparations be taken before the Earth is blanketed in its yearlong snow?
I received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.
This was a fascinating book. I almost didn’t accept the review request based on the quantity of books already on my to-read list, but the author wrote me such a nice message I had to accept it. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Let’s start with the genre. It’s listed as urban fantasy and post-apocalyptic, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. So, imagine a world where our world is so old that all of the history and cultural phenomena that we take for granted today, is forgotten except by a select few. Now take away everything you would typically expect from a dystopian novel (corrupt overbearing government, fancy technology, urban environments, etc.) and add in elements like a wildly different schedule for the seasons (winter is a year long thing that comes every few years), a wolf deity, and people with special abilities (known as echoes). All set in what you would probably imagine for a fantasy novel. I’ve never read anything close to this combination, but I liked it. The dystopian element made Gnochi’s stories, from the Civil War up to current times, interesting, and added a level of subtle commentary to what most of us take for granted in our American History class. The fantasy element, though, kept it interesting and made me curious to keep reading.
Moving on to the characters, they were phenomenal. I loved Gnochi and Cleo and basically everyone, even the ones who were closer to being antagonists. The relationships were so genuine and caring, while still a bit playful and teasing. There wasn’t anything more than the barest hint of romance, but it was refreshing to see characters just care about each other outside of the romantic context.
The only complaint I have is that I wish it had a more clearly defined story arc. Even at the halfway point I wasn’t entirely clear on what the overarching goal of the story was or who the ‘bad guys’ really were, or what Gnochi and Cleo were working towards. However, this could totally be because this a duology and I’ve only read the first one. Another thing I would have liked to see more of is Cleo’s back story. Not much information is given about her in this book, though I’m sure her plot is filled out more in the second part.
As far as content goes, there was infrequent use of foul language throughout the book. To me, it came across as intentional (e.g. representing a character type accurately) rather than being flagrant or careless, so I wasn’t really bothered by it overall. The only other element to point out is religion. While most of the book addresses religion more as spirituality (a wolf deity appearing rather than a structured belief system, moral code, etc.), it did have parts that alluded to the religions in the First Age (read: our time) and gave the idea that they were all equally valid. Again, in the context of the fantasy genre, it didn’t bother me.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I love it when I find stories that go outside of the cliches of their genres and keep me guessing as to what is coming next, which was definitely the case here.