Tuesday, February 09, 2021

The Moonsteel Crown by Stephen Deas: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Moonsteel Crown by Stephen Deas

The Moonsteel Crown is the first book in Stephen Deas’s new fantasy trilogy, Dominion. It’s set in the town of Varr in the empire of Aria that is struggling with a succession crisis and a bitterly cold winter. Of the two, only the latter has some meaning to the main characters.

The book description made me expect a fairly standard fantasy plot where the lowest of the earth end up becoming kingmakers. And while it sort of turns out that way in the end, that’s not what the book is about at all.

A group of thieves steal the emperor’s crown; accidentally, it seems at first. But instead of putting it back where they found it, they hide it. Naturally there are people who want it back and they know exactly who to come after. Why is that? Does someone in their group know more than they’ve let on? The thieves’ boss has started a war with a rivalling gang, but is that random either, or is the other group after the crown too? Meanwhile, the thieves themselves disagree on the best course of action, until the only way to save their lives is to give the crown back. But nothing is as straightforward as that.

The book has three main characters with their own point of view chapters. Seth is a former novice priest expelled from his church for blasphemy—or sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. He’s bitter and adrift, and he makes poor choices because of it. And then he gets his hands into texts that push him on a path of forbidden death magic. But is he in control of the magic, or does it control him? The book ends before we get the answer, but we’ll likely follow that story in the upcoming books.

Myla is a warrior monk who has also been expelled from her order. She’s excellent with her swords and quite deadly—and on the run. But her past is catching up with her, and it threatens the lives of the thieves with whom she has found a new home. So will she fight for them, or return home and face her past?

And then there is Fings, the greatest thief in Varr. He’s the one who does the actual stealing, and he isn’t exactly happy with being manoeuvred to doing it, especially when it puts his mother and sisters in peril. But as the forces who want the crown back press on them, he agrees with Myla that the crown must be returned—only he has an ace in his sleeve. He was my favourite of the three with his cunning plans and superstitious beliefs.

This book took a long time to get going. The characters were vague and difficult to get a hang of. A lot of space was devoted to the myths and history of Aria that didn’t really have anything to do with the plot. The reasons for Seth’s and Myla’s downfalls with their respective orders were hoarded like gold, but they turned out to be so mundane that the revelations were disappointing. It wasn’t until after the half point that I began to see what the book was about, and where it was going—and then it didn’t go there. At all. The latter half was as exciting and interesting as the first was dull, and it saved the book. The end was satisfying and complete, but it left enough questions open to lure the reader into continuing with the series.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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