Thank you so much to Angry Robot for the free early digital copy of Obsidian by Sarah J Daley! All opinions are my own!
This is an adult (18+) fantasy novel set on a vaguely Italian feeling island; it is rich in world building and magic. I read it fairly quickly and even though it can read as a standalone I definitely hope a second book is on the way
Bookish Quick Facts:
- Title: Obsidian
- Series: N/A?
- Author: Sarah J Daley
- Publisher & Release: Angry Robot, 01/25/22
- Length: 400 pgs
- Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for fans of adult sword & sorcery fantasy
Here is the synopsis:
Shade Nox is the only witch in a land of wizards – a fiend, a rogue, a wanted criminal.
Defying those who think her an abomination, Shade wears her tattoos openly and carries obsidian blades at her hips. For years, she has protected the outcast clans who wander the blighted Wastes, but the land is growing more unstable and her blades are no longer enough.
To save her people, Shade vows to raise a Veil of protection – a feat not accomplished in over a hundred years. But the magical Veils are said to belong to the Brotherhood church; if she succeeds in raising one, it will expose their lies. They swear to see her obliterated first.
Treading a dangerous path where allies can be as deceitful as enemies, and where demons lurk in the shadows, Shade chases a vision which could lead to her people’s salvation… or her own destruction.
There is definitely a lot to unpack with this book and for my current purposes I am assuming it’s a standalone
Let’s talk about the world building first: if this is a standalone I think it had a perfect amount of world building. Daley went pretty deep into the history of Malavita. She told us what we need to know about the war between the native peoples, the history of magic use, and how certain rituals were learned and eventually corrupted. I really appreciated this storyline.
On a micro level she also did a great job describing the mood of various areas, the culture in different small groups, food and drink, weather and architecture.
I liked that small things were included like a character’s ambivalence toward cats, because they were susceptible to the blighted magic.
What I wanted more of: the Brotherhood’s history and how the religion developed widely enough that the four faces, the hidden, and the wild are consistent across the island.
As part of the setting and atmosphere, I did feel like the tone for each area was set with lush descriptions, temperature, sights and smells, and these things were consistent. My favorite area was the glass fields.
For all of that, the book maintains a fast pace with plenty of action too.
Character wise: The main character is Shade Nox, a blood magic user who wields obsidian blades. She reminded me a lot of Mia Corvere because she takes crap from no one and is terrified of horses. She is able to touch a hidden element of magic. Apparently it is not normal in this world for women to be magic users or have the tattoos so Shade was an anomaly, ostracized, and wanted for various crimes. She was bad ass and super powerful but also vulnerable, and had a tendency to fall in love with and/or seduce like … everyone she is in intimate proximity with.
This created a weird dynamic at the end of the book and all felt very unnecessary, but it’s adult fantasy and properly advertised as such, so characters can do what they want.
The other main character is Raiden, who was stuck somewhere between duty and having a good heart and I liked him a lot. He definitely had some innate unnatural ability but it was never explored, just hinted at, so I definitely needed more of that and docked a star for it. That said, that’s where I wonder if there will be a sequel.
The other characters are numerous but each contributes something meaningful. Many have interesting stories, abilities, and snark for days.
The magic system: there’s an interesting back story for the magic. Veils are used to protect cities from the wild and corrupted magic of the wastes, and obviously there are corrupt people too, almost like a magical mafia of priests and mages that tax and tithe the people into poverty
The blood wizards (and witch) use blades of different gemstones and materials to designate how powerful they are. Tattoo magic is also incorporated as they serve as healing wards after the mage has performed blood magic. I definitely think the magic was the book’s strongest element – it tended to be over the top at times but who doesn’t love a grandiose display of elemental magic?
I feel like I did a lot of summary so here are my thoughts: The magic, characters, history, and world building all tie together and make this an enjoyable read. These story elements combine for a consistent feel where I can understand the character’s motivations and root for them within the world. It moved along quickly. I like the theme of women defying social boundaries (tattoos, clothing choices, etc), and love that ink is making it’s way into fantasy more now.
One totally random stylistic thing that I absolutely loved was that Daley used a pretty wide range of vocab words like ‘hummocky’ and ‘cerestory’, so I was able to learn something while reading!
Overall I definitely recommend this one for fans of adult fantasy with big magic and big personality!
Lastly: the author is doing a Sunday Brunch interview which should feature at the end of the month!