Survivor of a combat school, the orphaned Bingmei belongs to a band of mercenaries employed by a local ruler. Now the nobleman, and collector of rare artifacts, has entrusted Bingmei and the skilled team with a treacherous assignment: brave the wilderness’s dangers to retrieve the treasures of a lost palace buried in a glacier valley. But upsetting its tombs has a price.
Echion, emperor of the Grave Kingdom, ruler of darkness, Dragon of Night, has long been entombed. Now Bingmei has unwittingly awakened him and is answerable to a legendary prophecy. Destroying the dark lord before he reclaims the kingdoms of the living is her inherited mission. Killing Bingmei before she fulfills it is Echion’s.
Thrust unprepared into the role of savior, urged on by a renegade prince, and possessing a magic that is her destiny, Bingmei knows what she must do. But what must she risk to honor her ancestors? Bingmei’s fateful choice is one that neither her friends nor her enemies can foretell, as Echion’s dark war for control unfolds.
Thanks much to the folks at 47North and Wunderkind PR for providing a copy of this for review purposes, this did not affect the content of my review in any way.
I’ll admit I didn’t know what to expect going into this book having never read anything by Jeff Wheeler before, so this whole read was a wonderful surprise.
We spend much of the book following our main character, Bingmei, a young woman who is the lone survivor of an attack on her home. She’s eventually taken on by and trained in fighting by a leader of a mercenary group. She always has revenge in the back of her mind despite her master’s warning of not giving in to it. It took me a little while to warm to Bingmei but by the end of the book I felt a deep connection with her character. She isn’t a passive character at all, she has her own opinions about things, but is pretty dutiful for the most part. She also cares about the others in the group, even if she doesn’t have great relationships with all of them. I think one of my favorite things was the relationship she develops with a young fisherman, Quion, after he’s left orphaned. They become friends of a sort and Quion is such a guileless character. The other great thing about following Bingmei and seeing things through her perspective is that she has a special gift where she can smell other people’s emotions. She can tell if someone is being deceitful and all sorts of other useful things. Her gift is a secret for the most part, people think she just has a knack for her being able to ferret out liars. I thought that was a really cool ability and it makes it interesting for the other characters…we also know pretty much what they’re on about without having to be in their heads.
I liked the rest of the characters too, although I felt pretty lukewarm toward Prince Rowen. For a lot of the story Bingmei is unsure of him, he seems to be good at hiding his intentions even from her. Like Bingmei, he’s also pretty single minded. I don’t think he’s a bad person but I feel like his ambtions have some pretty far reaching consequences by the end of the story. And I want to say that it’s not as if I disliked him, but I felt like I was supposed to like him more than I did, maybe because Bingmei warms up to him by the end. It’s a shame I didn’t warm that much because some parts of his story would have had a much stronger emotional impact on me if I’d cared about him more. I really loved the other mercenaries though, they were fantastic. And I loved Kunmia, the leader of the mercenaries, the most of them–she’s very much a lawful-good alignment type of character despite being a mercenary. What I love about her is that she always has Bingmei’s back and I feel like that’s rare, for someone to put themselves on the line for another like that.
The pacing on this felt a little uneven for me at times. It has a fantastic start and then a little bit of a slow down. Things are happening but there doesn’t seem to be much urgency even in cases where that’s warranted. I think some of this is because we’re so focused on Bingmei’s thoughts and feelings and some of that is contrary to others in the group. Also we spend some time figuring out how Bingmei’s ability works in the beginning and getting used to it. That being said, things really start to pick up about a quarter of the way into the story. Bingmei’s group is sent on a mission from the ruler of one of the kingdoms–they’re tasked with finding a lost palace and looking for treasure. Meanwhile, there’s an ever present danger of the enemy attacking as they’ve been encroaching on these lands. I thought everything from when they found the city to the end to be fantastically paced. The action ramps up as danger is on their heels, chasing them from place to place. I love stories where the protagonists are on the run from danger, so this worked really well for me. Along with that there’s some great action featuring some fantastic fighting, could clearly see these fighting moves playing out in my mind as they were perfectly described on page.
I also really enjoyed the world-building in this story. The author said he was inspired by a trip to Alaska but also by a trip to China and some research they did on the early history of China and that all comes through very clear here. There’s not a whole lot of politics in this one except we are dealing with rulers of kingdoms and several times it’s mentioned about them uniting the kingdoms but under which leader seems to be a sticking point and so there’s an impasse. Also, Prince Rowen and his older brother, who is the heir, don’t get a long at all for some reason and Prince Rowen definitely has plans for his own kingdom. This is much more a story of tomb-raiding gone awry. I also love Echion, he makes for a fantastic Big Bad! Oh, this guy feels unstoppable and the odds are definitely stacked against our protagonists. I also love that this Big Bad is tied to the history of their world, especially this ominous sounding Death Wall which I hope to learn more about in the next book. Also, things like Bingmei’s ability and, perhaps most of all the mysterious killing fog of the title, give the world some unique touches.
Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot. Since this one leaves off on…not a cliffhanger exactly but close enough…I’m eager to read the next book and see how things play out. 4/5 stars.