To overthrow the Stewards’ hold on the kingdoms, Kaianne and Andreiyes strike a tenuous alliance between their people – the Marked and the Carved. Yet uniting the two factions is proving a greater challenge than either of them anticipated.
The Carved blame the Marked for centuries of genocide.
The Marked are conditioned by the belief that all Carved are heartless and savage.
If they cannot put aside their differences, the rebellion is doomed. As more Stewards close in and with the king nearly on his deathbed, their window of opportunity is closing.
Meanwhile, Master Rau knows the royal couple is plotting. Torn between his allegiance to his Steward brethren and to his daughter, he struggles with how to proceed. When rumors surface that an old adversary has come out of exile for the benefit of the royals – the very same person who prophesied the Stewards’ end – Rau must decide between what he knows is right and what is best for the person he cares for most.
Marked for the Pyre is a beautiful and heart-wrenching sequel that improves on the author’s debut in every way. With this second entry, Fontaine has cemented the Brands of Taelgir as one of my most anticipated ongoing series and one I will be paying very close attention to.
Whereas the first book in the series was an intimate and personal story with epic elements, Marked for the Pyre widens the scope to an epic scale, while still maintaining the character-driven nature of the series. We start the book after a small time jump, which was handled very well and improves the story. The opening throws us right into the action and mostly fast pace of the novel, and the tension is rarely loosed from there. One of my favorite aspects of the book was how the author balances the intensity of action with the intensity of personal character moments. We don’t have non-stop fighting but I felt the emotions of the characters so viscerally that even when nothing is happening I was still tense and wanting to see what happened next.
The author excels at character writing, and Marked for the Pyre was a step up from the already great character development of Carved Amidst the Shadows. The relationship between Kaianne and Andreiyes is still beautiful, but also more mature and nuanced than in the previous book. Both of them are flawed from past traumas, and while they love each other in spite of their weaknesses, these flaws do at times get between them and cause friction. This is a theme that extends beyond their relationship as well. Kaianne, Andreiyes, and many of the other characters of the novel are deeply flawed, as are we all. Their decisions have consequences, and they don’t always make the right ones. It is interesting to see how they rationalize the choices they make, even some that they know are wrong. The phrase “the end justifies the means” was explicitly used multiple times, so while we know that these are mostly good people trying to do the right thing, making tough choices has lead them down a path that has made them more callous and caused even more issues.
Master Rau is a character that you love to hate, but he also got a lot more emotional depth in this book compared to the previous. His moral conflict was so compelling to read and even though I still loathe him, I also felt so much empathy for him and his love for his adoptive daughter Eybah. He is willing to do anything to save her, which we saw in book 1, but it is taken to another level in this book and made him a much more compelling character. We also get some more development for a side character that looks like will become a more prominent antagonist in the series, and I really enjoyed the path he was turned down, in spite of how it hurt me.
One of my absolute favorite things about these books is the worldbuilding. It is both expansive and exquisite. You can really tell the author knows her world and all the details, especially with the expanded scope of this book, and the promise for even more in subsequent novels. The magic is fascinating, and we learn more about the barriers between countries, the marks, and the magical creatures of this world. We get some revelations but also more mysteries, and all these additions left me begging for more. I can’t wait to dive even deeper into Taelgir as the series progresses.
The ending was both epic and brutal. With a number of heart-wrenching deaths we see how very few people are safe, and no one is safe from the consequences. These moments, along with the twists the author throws in, kept me on the edge of my seat and wanting more. Readers looking for character-driven epic fantasy with both huge scale and complex characters will find a lot to love in this series. I can’t recommend the Brands of Taelgir highly enough.