Let me get something straight: The Heir to the North blew me away.
Right, now that’s out of the way, I can start from the beginning. I picked up Steven Poore’s recent fantasy release, thinking at the time that I wasn’t going to like it much. The blurb sounded a little tropey, and a peek at the first page didn’t really do anything to dispel that preconception. But I rather liked the cover, and I was in the mood for some good old-fashioned epic fantasy, so I settled in one night to give it a go.
Three hours later my husband tapped me on the shoulder. “Are you planning on sleeping?” It was almost midnight, and I was nearly halfway through the book.
The Heir to the North (Kristell Ink, 2015) is one of those stories that, despite a bombshell of a prologue, starts out ever so softly. Told from the viewpoint of storyteller-in-training Cassia, nothing really happens in the first part of the story. Or rather, lots of things happen, but it’s told delicately in a wash of watercolors rather than in Joe Abercrombie’s heart-thumping mad-swirl-of-acrylics style.
Sounds boring? Far from it. What I found so special about Cassia’s journey is that Steven has that rare knack of sliding his readers right under his protagonist’s skin. Before long I was living and breathing Cassia’s tale, heart settling into the rhythm of the road, pounding in fear when hers did, beating a little faster at her trials and triumphs.
By the time the pace picked up I was Cassia, and the tale was all the more exciting for it. I tore through the last third of the book only to find that Steven takes every single one of those tropes I was afraid of way back in the beginning and tips them on their head, with one of the most surprising endings I’ve seen in a long time. And later I found myself on the sofa, mind still trapped in the settling dust of Steven’s tale, and wondered how on earth he’d managed to take black and white and mix them up, and turn his whole world shades of grey.
A stunning offering from Steven Poore, and I look forward to the second book and the story’s conclusion.
“Caenthell will stay buried, and the North will not rise again until I freely offer my sword to a true descendant of the High Kings—or until one takes it from my dying hands!”
With this curse, the Warlock Malessar destroyed Caenthell. The bloodline of the High Kings disappeared and the kingdom faded into dark legend until even stories of the deed lost their power. But now there is an Heir to the North.
Cassia hopes to make her reputation as a storyteller by witnessing a hardened soldier and a heroic princeling defeat Malessar and his foul curse. But neither of her companions are exactly as they appear, and the truth lies deep within stories that have been buried for centuries.
As Cassia learns secrets both soldier and warlock have kept hidden since the fall of Caenthell, she discovers she can no longer merely bear witness. Cassia must become part of the story; she must choose a side and join the battle.
The North will rise again.