4 Stars Out Of 5
A Worthy Beginning to a Gripping Epic Fantasy Series
December 18, 2015
First off, I read a digital ARC of this book which I received in exchange for an honest review. Honesty is important to me, and I have given less-than-glowing reviews of review copies before, so trust when I say that the following opinions are in no way coerced.
I've been a fan of Jill's books basically for as long as I've been aware of their existence. 'By Darkness Hid' was the first one I put on my wishlist, and also the first one I read, so the world and the characters are very close to my heart. I'm a die-hard fantasy fan, and especially Christian fantasy, which Jill writes masterfully. So I was, shall we say, rather intrigued when I found out that Jill was going to release another fantasy series. I was just a bit excited when I got the opportunity to read the first installment before its public release.
Okay, so maybe I had to do some repairs on the roof after I flew up through it. Sue me.
Bottom line, Jill did not disappoint with this one. One of the most important things to note, especially if you're coming to it as a 'Blood of Kings' fan, is that while it shares some elements with her other books, it is different in a few ways. First, 'The Kinsman Chronicles' is set hundreds of years prior to 'Blood of Kings' and therefore the setting is very different. Second, Jill usually writes what she calls "weird fiction for teens", whereas 'The Kinsman Chronicles' is geared primarily towards adults. As such, most of the characters are older and deal with different concerns, the most notable of which stem from the corrupt nature of the culture in which they've been raised.
The story is set primarily in Armania, a land ruled by a corrupt king who makes sacrifices to false gods and keeps several concubines, as well as multiple wives. This is considered normal for nobility in their culture (as was once the case in Israel when the people forgot Jehovah, and strong parallels may be drawn here). One character seems to be the victim of prior sexual abuse, though nothing is explicitly stated or shown, and characters practice dark arts through power drawn from dark spirits. As such, caution should be exercised when considering the book as reading material for less mature audiences. However, I should note that the author handles all these potentially problematic topics with care and restraint, and so puts the proper perspective on the characters' actions and lifestyles without allowing the story to become steeped in inappropriate scenes.
In my opinion, while the more awkward topics might make one squirm a little (the main reason I struggled with whether to give the book four stars or five, because there was no four-and-a-half-star option), the darkness sets things up well for a future turning point when the characters find Arman (God) and make a change in their lifestyles. Have you ever heard the story of someone who was a slave to crime or passion or some other sin, only to experience a miraculous change when they gave their lives over fully to Christ? Those testimonies hold a unique power because of the sheer contrast they elicit between the darkness and the light. As such, I do believe it is important and necessary to show where the characters stumble (though with care, of course) to lay the groundwork for things to come.
The characters, imperfect as they are, are multi-dimensional and relatable. I especially enjoyed reading scenes with Wilek and Trevn, the Armanian Sars (or princes). Their personalities are different, but I found them equally relatable and might have a hard time deciding whom to root for should it come to a choice between one or the other in a future book. The story starts a bit slow as Jill sets everything up, but I didn't find that to be a major issue. The slower start gave me time to connect with the characters and get into their world in a way that a faster beginning would not have allowed. The world-building is superb as ever, with all due context given for the details of the immersive environment created for all the characters involved, without bogging the reader down in unnecessary info-dumps.
All in all, I'd say this is a good start to the series, and worth the read for discerning readers who enjoy epic fantasy. I'm excited to see how the rest of the series goes.