Monday, 4 July 2022

The Stone Knife


For generations, the forests of Ixachipan have echoed with the clash of weapons, as nation after nation has fallen to the Empire of Songs – and to the unending, magical music that binds its people together. Now, only two free tribes remain.

The Empire is not their only enemy. Monstrous, scaled predators lurk in rivers and streams, with a deadly music of their own.

As battle looms, fighters on both sides must decide how far they will go for their beliefs and for the ones they love – a veteran general seeks peace through war, a warrior and a shaman set out to understand their enemies, and an ambitious noble tries to bend ancient magic to her will.

A really excellent piece of high fantasy. Annoyingly, I know that I picked it up from a Twitter recommendation, the same person who recommended Kingdom of the Wicked. I can't remember who that was, and it's driving me nuts because I really enjoyed both of them.

This took me a moment to get into as it's quite complex and there are a lot of different tribes and unfamiliar names. I actually think the Audiobook is an advantage here because, left to my own attempts at pronunciation, I probably wouldn't have got half the characters correct.

It's nice in that two of the main characters are gay and one is deaf, but their inclusion feels natural rather than forced. It doesn't feel like they've been placed there as a token of diversity, but as part of a whole and many-faceted world. Their characters are completely developed and, in Xessa's case, the fact that her deafness proves an advantage to her community and to her own safety, is nicely woven in. There's some really nice details about the various cultures which make them feel real.

Lilla reached out and ran his finger along the pale, yellow marriage cord resting on Tayan's collar bones, its twin tied around his own throat. The cords were knotted with promises and some were hung with tiny charms that meant those promises were fulfilled. A life mapped out. A life shared. 


The Macaws, wearing their scarlet feather, patrolled to either side of the long line of captives. They were half-blood Pechaqueh, a step below elite, a step above the no-blood slaves and dogs. Scattered among them were the secretive, anonymous, whispers. More rumour than fact, more legend than living. Every warrior wore a peace feather above one ear, and that covenant was sacred.

There were a lot of parallels with human history in this. Although the book carried strong undertones of South America, it also brought to mind Liberian history, where those who had been removed from their culture, broken down and remade in their masters' image found themselves perpetuating that abuse once free. A cycle of racial segregation perpetuated by generations of dehumanisation and stripped identity. It's a pattern repeated throughout history where the oppressed become the oppressors, and it's very neatly summed up here:

The whole empire was a lie, a deceit built on suffering... they threatened the people you loved and then they stripped away who you were. They turned you into an animal and then slowly, they built you back up in their own image until their beliefs were yours. And one day, if you were very obedient and very lucky, they'd free you, and the first thing you'd do would be to buy slaves of your own. And so it went, rolling endlessly, like the cycle of the seasons. Like the rise and fall of the great star at morning and the great star at evening.

A lot to unpack and think on there.

That's what I liked about this. It was thinking fantasy. There was a lot you could equate to our own world, but enough differences to keep it interesting. I'm looking forward to the next instalment.

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