Book Reviews, Fantasy

Review: Map’s Edge by David Hair

Soldier, sorcerer and exiled nobleman Raythe Vyre has run out of places to hide. When the all-conquering Bolgravian Empire invaded, Raythe grabbed his daughter Zar and after taking part in a disastrous rebellion, they washed up on the edge of the continent. Now he’s found a chance of redemption for himself and the precociously talented Zar: a map showing a hitherto unknown place that’s rich in istariol, the rare mineral that fuels sorcery. Mining it will need people, but luckily there are plenty of outcasts, ne’er-do-wells and loners desperate enough to brave haunted roads through the ruins of an ancient, long-dead civilisation, to seek wealth and freedom. 

But the Bolgravian Empire is not about to let anyone defy it – and even out here, at the edge of the map, implacable imperial agent Toran Zorne has caught Raythe’s scent. The hunt is on…

Thank you to NetGalley and Quercus Books for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.

I have been wanting to read David Hair’s work for a while, and I really loved the concept of this new book, which starts a brand new series called the Tethered Citadel. Even so, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, since the blurb doesn’t give much away. It took me a while to get to know the characters, though I did like most of the right away, and there were moments in the first half in which I felt there were too many points of view and things were moving a little slowly, but as I got further in I started to appreciate all of it, and in the end I really loved it.

Map’s Edge is set in a world that has seen many upheavals; from the shattering of the ancient Aldar kingdom and the Ice Age their twisted magic brought forth, to the conquering of smaller countries by the Bolgravian Empire, a Russian-like people who wish to erase all other cultures in favour of one uniform nation. Raythe Vyre, the central figure in this story, is an Otravian noble who joined the rebellion against the Bolgravs and was forced to run when things went badly, ending up in Teshveld, a town on the fringes, full of people escaping their pasts and the watchful eyes of the Empire. Raythe is a sorcerer posing as a healer, and when he awakes one night to a group of Bolgravs at his door, ordering him to heal one of their men, he discovers they have just returned from an expedition in the newly discovered lands of Verdessa, where they have discovered vast reserves of istariol, a substance that fuels magic.

Sensing opportunity, Raythe incapacitates the enemy group, and calls a meeting with those of Teshveld that he trusts, to organise their own trek up into Verdessa, to mine the istariol before the Empire discovers it. Now, at this stage, I was expecting a Fellowship of the Ring-style group, a ragtag little team up against the world, but as Raythe rightly realises, mining and transporting a vast quantity of istariol takes a lot of people, and almost the entire town of Teshveld packs up their belongings and begins the long and dangerous journey North in search of wealth and freedom. I wasn’t sure how to feel about this at first, because a big group is hard to keep track of, and it can be difficult to remember and care about more individual characters, but I needn’t have worried. David Hair brings them all to life brilliantly, a group of morally grey, complex people, all scarred in some way by the invading Bolgravs.

‘ “If I die alone, let the wolves devour my bones,” she quoted from an old poem. “Let the crows eat my eyes, and the starlings take my hair to nest.” 

“But give my sword to my son, so I’ll be with him when the fight is won,” Jesco added, concluding the verse.’ 

Of course, there are key people that dominate, all of them with their own agendas and past traumas, and I loved getting to know them all. The first half of the book focuses very much on the way their dynamics develop in these close confines, and the power plays between all of them. Though at the time I wanted the story to move faster, I am grateful for the time spent on character development, because it pays off later during the more action-based scenes.

Apart from the challenge of entering Verdessa undetected, and the dangers of the road, Raythe and his people are being followed by Toran Zorne, a tenacious member of the Bolgrav secret service who has been hunting Raythe for two years, and tracks him on his mad quest north, creating further obstacles for him and his people.

‘Overhead, the planetary rings, silver bands of light that carved the sky in two, glowed like the blades of a sky-god.’

A big part of this story, as you can tell, centres around character tension, but another crucial, and beautifully crafted element, is the world building. There is so much packed into this book, so many little moments that suggest greater things, that made the world feel much vaster than the confines of the map. The mythology of the Aldar and their floating cities, the planetary rings that split the skies at night, the folk songs and stories, the range of different cultures represented within Raythe’s caravan, the magic system so reliant on the spirit world – it all builds such an exciting backdrop that I would happily explore for hours on end.

I really loved Map’s Edge and, what with the massive twist that comes right at the end, I cannot wait to get my hands on what comes next! If you like a fantasy with a big cast, gritty realism but moments of hope and happiness, then this is definitely for you. If you’ve read it, let me know what your thoughts are!

Book Info

Published: 15th October 2020 by Quercus Books
Genre: fantasy
Pages: 400
Series: The Tethered Citadel, book one
Narration style: third person past tense, multiple points of view
Format read: eARC
Trigger Warnings: violence, attempted and threatened rape

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