An apprentice guard in the royal household of Brandishear, Chriani is a capable young warrior held back from attaining his full potential by a lifetime of dark anger. Lauresa is a princess about to be set aside as heir and married off for the sake of treaty — and the only woman Chriani has ever loved. Chriani saw the flick of her eyes, the gleam of blue catching the light as he twisted to follow her gaze.
In the faint light of the corridor, his eyes caught the ripple of shadow that meant movement in the distance. No idea what he was supposed to say, but he was fairly certain that begging for mercy would be a large part of it.
Then Lauresa was moving behind him, one hand across his mouth even as the other brought the dagger up, close to his throat as she dragged him back. Chriani was startled, as much at being grabbed at all as he was at the strength in her arm. As he stumbled back, though, he felt instinct override any uncertainty. No room to get a decent strike in with the other hand, but her flank was vulnerable and in easy reach, or the soft muscle of her thigh, one sharp blow that would drop her.
He went for the dagger, though.
No point in having his throat slit, by accident or otherwise. But even as his hand clamped around her wrist, Lauresa sang…. Published by Insane Angel Studios. About Scott Fitzgerald Gray. Love, death, and obligation drag a young soldier into a world of political turmoil he never sought to be part of — and place him at the center of a web of ancient magic that threatens to bring five nations to the brink of war.
The hissing turned to words that rang out behind him. One of the Ilvani, his voice twisted by rage as he screamed an oath. We hunt the vile, we hunt the hateful. We hunt the Ilmari. Chriani didn't understand the warrior as he shouted again, though. He risked a look behind him. The Ilvani warriors always fought in silence.
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No battle cries, no orders ever heard. He saw the rider three lengths back, snaking through the thinning screen of trees. His hair was long streaks of grey and gold, tied tight and flowing fast behind him, his eyes flashing molten gold in the half-light. His leather was cut away at the shoulder for ease of shooting, his bow up and a black arrow at the string, set dead on Chriani. On the wrist of the Ilvani's bow arm, a blood-red light was flaring. Chriani heard his name hang across the gulf of shadow and the screen of leaves that wrapped them both.
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His name, shouted by an Ilvani warrior he'd never seen before. You will become a fan as I have. Clearwater Dawn is a book I really wanted to love. It has lovely cover art, the description sounds exciting, and the prose is fluid and almost poetic in places. There was just so much potential here, but I feel that on the whole this first book in a projected series failed to live up to it all.
The story follows one Chriani, an apprentice bodyguard of sorts. There is a fairly complex military structure going on here, so it is difficult to place him exactly on the scale, but he's near the bottom and serving directly under a man near the very top. Anyhow, his master is killed, which opens the doorway to an entire conspiracy that threatens to claim not only Chriani's life but the life of the Princess Lauresa and the High Prince Chanist-or does it?
There are a lot of twists and turns in the plot here, and Chriani spends more than half the book either defying the orders of authority or nearly dead as a result of his defiance. Despite how that sounds, this is not a book that trips from action-packed moment to action-packed moment. One of the biggest drawbacks I felt was the amount of exposition that slows the story down continually. This is most notable in the first ten to twenty percent of the novel, and is a reason why I almost did not pick this one up after sampling.
While it does not necessarily take very long for anything to start happening, it seems like forever because of the amount of back story the reader is constantly forced to slog through. That is the chief of my complaints here, though.
The plot itself is straightforward and could have been almost too linear were it not for some good twists that come later on. Gray does a fine job of throwing out red herrings, and does so convincingly enough that one is easily drawn into Chriani's way of thinking, missing the truth because believing the lie is so much easier.
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The astute reader-or the reader familiar with mystery novels-may be able to figure out the truth of things before Chriani does, as the clues are there, but again I think Mr. Gray has done a fine job in shielding the truth and holding revelations nicely in reserve for the climax.
After the enormous amount of exposition, the greatest issue I had with the reading of this novel is the names. Many of them are just too familiar, and after the first chapter it all sort of blurred together. The result was that I ultimately could not follow much of the back story, being constantly confused as to who was who and which nation was which.
This does not affect the plot so much, however, as the only primary characters with similar names are Chriani the hero and Chanist the aforementioned High Prince. Still, even though the primary plot was not weighed down by similar-sounding names, it would have been nice to follow the back story more easily, especially since there is just so much of it.
Lastly, the characters themselves are all mostly believable, and they all have their secrets. While the back story is difficult to grab hold of, I think it's very clear that there is a whole host of history that is influencing the present. Rare are the fantasy novels that do so good a job at showing the present as a result of the past.
The Exile's Blade Series by Scott Fitzgerald Gray
The characters bear their burdens, shielding secrets from each other, even from those they trust the most, and this creates some wonderful tension and dramatic irony throughout. It can get a bit frustrating, and I sometimes wanted to shout at Chriani for one reason or another, but I was always reminded that his behaviour is a result of his past and not simply random.
The third-person narrative is told exclusively from Chriani's perspective, which is an aid to the mystery-type nature of the plot, but does also leave me feeling I'd like to have known more about a few of the other characters who, as a result, were not so fully fleshed out as he. At the end of the day, Clearwater Dawn is a decent distraction. The writing is consistently crisp and evocative, and the plot should keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.
The novel is hampered by some almost unforgivable issues in my opinion , and so it is with great difficulty that I arrive at a value judgement out of five stars. Some of the problems could irreparably cripple a lesser book, but the climax redeems in this case. It is a true saying that we remember endings more clearly than beginnings, and in this case the tight conclusion of Clearwater Dawn makes up nicely for any shortfalls that precede it. Fantasy that doesn't make me turn my brain off with likable characters,believable action and a good heart.
My favorite of Gray's to date. Insane Angel Studios Publication Date: