When the gods shaped the continent into five kingdoms to be ruled by their progeny, they did not account for the greed of men. When they created the Order from their god-blessed followers to mediate between realms, they neglected to plan against the hoarding of power. War between the royalists and the godly was inevitable.
Five centuries later, the borders between kingdoms are impenetrable. No branded-born Marked can cross them without burning to ash, except the Order’s Stewards. But a damaging new war has been prophesied, one that haunts the Order, one that will come to pass if Carved traitors roam free and brandless-born Flawed are left alive.
It starts with one girl that survives the impossible. Kaianne, the Carved. It takes shape through one prince with ambition. Andreiyes, the Marked. It hinges on one grieving Steward that is ready to give up hope. Rau, the Steward. Three people bound by fate – whether they like it or not.
Only a couple chapters into Carved Amidst the Shadows I had a feeling that this series would become a new favorite. It has everything I love in epic fantasy; expansive worldbuilding, interesting magic, dark secrets, and compelling characters. And while there were some small issues for me with this book, which is normal considering it is a debut novel, I had a fantastic time reading it and I’m still confident the series will become a favorite.
There are 3 POV characters in this book, but our main protagonist is a young noble girl named Kaianne. The book starts out at her family’s manor and is an excellent introduction to the characters and some elements of the worldbuilding. Her mother gives birth to a Flawed child, which means he was born without the Mark of the realm imprinted on his arm. Normally this means the mother and child would be killed, as Flawed are deemed too dangerous to live. However, a brand new royal decree sentences the entire family of any Flawed to death. Kaianne’s family is killed and she is left for dead in her burning home with a mortal wound. Our second POV, Prince Andreiyes, rescues Kaianne and helps her recover from her wounds. However, in order to prevent her from being tracked and killed, he must cut out her Mark from her arm, and make her one of the Carved. The Carved have all removed their Marks, and are branded outlaws and traitors. So in saving her life, Andreiyes has also sentenced Kaianne to a life on the run. Kaianne vows revenge for family, but first she must learn the skills to survive after her pampered upbringing.
Our third POV is Rau, a 500 year old Master of the Order. The Order are the magic wielders of this world and are doing a lot of stuff behind the scenes that is difficult to get into without spoilers, but they are very intriguing and I’m excited to see them be more involved in future books. Suffice it to say that the Order believes in a prophecy that blames the Flawed and Carved for the destruction of the kingdom and as such are devoted to hunting them down. They are also historically at odds with the royals, so from the perspective of Andreiyes and Kaianne he is an antagonist, though he does not consider himself one. The Order are not mustache-twirling villains, they believe that what they are doing is for the benefit of the people and the kingdom. Which makes their zealotry all the more dangerous, and their characters more compelling.
The character development in this novel was very immersive. I found myself drawn into the lives of all of our POV characters and the personal struggles and tension were palpable while reading. There is a 5 year time jump in the middle of the book that feels seamless, and I felt was a great choice. Kaianne and Andreiyes were 13 and 15 respectively at the beginning and the time jump allows us to spend more time with their more mature older selves, while also skipping most of the training montages that would have inevitably ensued. Kaianne especially is very different after the jump, having been forced to adapt or die, and it was fun to see how she had matured while still feeling like the Kaianne we had seen throughout the first half. On the other hand, Master Rau has a sort of devolution that was just as interesting to watch. In the beginning, he is tired and weary from his many centuries of life and was even considering allowing himself to pass on. Something happens around halfway through the book that drastically changes his circumstances and he is invigorated again, and while he is happier, this change also leads to his devolution of character that is fascinating to watch.
And while I greatly enjoyed the characters in this book, they are also my only major complaint. Dialogue, especially for younger characters, sometimes felt strange or out of character. There were also multiple occasions where characters had large mood swings, or felt like they suddenly regressed to old versions of themselves and back again very suddenly. I chalk this up to this being a debut novel and while it was sometimes distracting, I still had a great time overall and very much enjoyed the characters as a whole. The only other thing to note is the romance, while handled extremely well, was a bit over dramatic for me at times. Though this is completely a personal preference and I think most readers will thoroughly enjoy it.
My favorite aspect of this novel was the worldbuilding. It is absolutely exquisite. There is an obvious depth to the world that intrigues me, and so much more to be uncovered that leaves me yearning for more. As we know so far, long ago the gods left the world and divided it between their 5 children. In the hundreds of years since then, their descendants squabbled for power and as a consequence, their are mysterious magical barriers on the borders of each realm that only the Order can cross. If a Marked attempts to cross, they are disintegrated. However, as Kaianne discovers, Carved are also able to cross the borders. Which begs so many questions as to the nature of the Marks, the walls, and the goals of the Order. Andreiyes also discovers as secret about the relationship between the royals and the Order which is a huge twist and one I can’t wait to see develop further.
The novel was definitely a slow-burn. There was some amount of action but a large portion of the book was character development and set up for the world and overall plot of the series. Despite this I never felt bored while reading, and I am very excited to see what the author does with the sequel now that most of the setup is done. I have a feeling it will only get better from here. The ending of the book was not your typical fight scene but it still had me at the edge of my seat and my heart pounding from the tension. Especially with the sequel due out very soon, I recommend this book to all readers of dark and epic fantasy. There is so much to enjoy in this book whether you are a character-driven reader or love immersive worldbuilding.