Heir of Autumn, by Giles Carwyn and Todd Fahnestock (Eos, 2006)

Welcome to Ohndarien, the so-called Jewel of the Known World. A vital cog in the shipping and trade industries, it sits between the Summer Seas and the Great Ocean, connecting the two bodies of water and their respective inhabitants. It is a city of beauty, and of freedom, and of justice, and it is greatly coveted by neighboring countries. But for centuries, it has defended itself fiercely. Ruled by eight people, the Brothers and Sisters of the Seasons, who are chosen by the magical Heartstone which is buried deep within Ohndarien, it was strong for generations. But now, it is weak. Ever since the four Brothers of the last generation journeyed forth years ago and never returned, the city has been ruled only by the Sisters, and a foreign-born Brother of Autumn named Krellis, who originally came to the city to conquer it. Everyone thought Krellis would be satisfied with ruling the city as a Brother. They may have been wrong.

Brophy is a Child of the Seasons, heir to the power and destined to possibly take up his father’s mantle as a Brother. But as of fifteen, he’s still too young, too inexperienced. He spends his time with Trent, Krellis’ son, the two often getting in trouble with their escapades. That friendship is about to change the face of the world.

Ultimately, plans begin to collide, and destiny unfolds. Brophy, framed for a brutal crime, is exiled from Ohndarien. Mentored by an enigmatic assassin, Brophy ends up in the court of Physendria, a strange and deadly place where power and status all relate to a dangerous competition known as Nine Squares. Should Brophy ever wish to get revenge and return home, he must now trust in the favors of a seductive queen, and survive the winner-take-all games.

Meanwhile, even as Brophy struggles for survival and freedom against all odds, Physendria launches a long-delayed invasion of Ohndarien, even as the city itself has become divided in a civil war between Krellis and the Sisters. Caught in the middle as pawns are the Zelani, who practice old, powerful magics fueled by emotion and sex. But even this struggle for control of Ohndarien pales under the threat of a long-hidden evil, one which will destroy them all if it wakes. Who will sacrifice themselves for the sake of the world? Who will live, who will die, and who will achieve their destiny? It all begins here.

As can be inferred from the lengthy synopsis above, a lot happens in Heir of Autumn, a densely-packed book that nears epic proportions as it weaves multiple threads and stories together. Luckily, it’s not hard to keep track of the characters as they follow their interlocking storylines, even if the passage of time is occasionally hard to gauge. It’s hard to talk about the events in the latter half of the book, if only because I don’t want to spoil (any more than necessary) some of the earlier developments. This book is full of twists and turns, unlikely alliances and surprise betrayals. There’s more than one sudden change in the status quo, and it all fuels a plot that builds towards a massive resolution. (That’s reviewer-speak for ‘Lots happens, and there’s at least one big battle. . . .)

Overall, I was quite pleased by Heir of Autumn. It’s a good, solid storyline, filled with memorable characters, and a refreshingly original setting. I suppose one could compare Ohndarien to Switzerland, however, if it was sitting in the middle of the Panama Canal, but that’s doing the city an injustice. Even more intriguing is Physen, a city built around and in an extinct volcano, where life is brutal and cheap if you’re not one of the lucky elites, and where everything revolves around a game that rewards the survival of the fittest (and most ruthless). Not so intriguing is the Ohohhim culture, which we see relatively little of, and which to all appearances, fills the need for an Oriental-inspired society.

I enjoyed Heir of Autumn, though at nearly 600 pages, it occasionally proved to be a bit of a slog. Things kept moving skillfully enough that was it was hard to stop reading, on the other hand. Thanks to its relatively unusual setting, its memorable cast of interesting characters, and its entangled plotlines, Heir of Autumn manages to stand out from the usual crop of epic fantasies, enough that I’ll be looking forward to the sequel, Mistress of Winter, when that comes out.

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