My first love will forever be epic fantasy. I grew up devouring books by Tolkien, Terry Brooks and Ursula K. Le Guin, and although I don’t read that much adult fantasy any more, when I do, I usually find myself utterly entranced by the likes of Elizabeth Bear and Martha Wells. It had been a while since I’d read a really good high fantasy novel though when I spotted Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson. I immediately added it to my to-be-read list and promptly forgot all about it until several months later when I bumped into the author at a convention in Finland and then again in London.
I actually met the Aussie author at two separate cons over the summer of 2014, and was rather delighted to discover that he too was an expat living and writing in Finland! After having met him in person and getting to hang out with him on a panel, I couldn’t wait to dive into his book.
Given the Goodreads description, I started reading Unwrapped Sky with certain expectations: 1) Minotaurs 2) epic fantasy. This book didn’t quite meet my expectations on point 1 and thoroughly exceeded them on point 2.
This is not a book about minotaurs. Minotaurs are part of the world, but they’re not quite the major presence I anticipated and that left me a little disappointed, to be honest. Also, I guess sex with a minotaur isn’t technically bestiality, but it still kinda creeped me out. I really wish we’d been given more of a chance to get to know these creatures, but the minotaurs are quickly relegated to minor subplot – at least in book 1.
Onto point 2. This book is epic fantasy and then some. The world is a rich tapestry of magic, technology and steampunk elements. This is where the book truly deserves 5 stars. The settings are original and vivid to the point where I could smell Caeli-Amur and hear the sounds of the market-place. I loved the blend of technology and more typical fantasy elements, although I can see how this book that straddles the science-fantasy genre might leave science fiction fans wanting more tech and fantasy fans annoyed by the very presence of tech. The only comparison I can draw is perhaps Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy in terms of the tech + fantastic/magic themes.
Onto the characters. I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan of the three separate POVs and seemingly disconnected story threads but of course, the author weaves these three narratives together, and in the end I wanted to spend more time with each character, characters who were all morally ambiguous. There are no clear cut heroes here, so if you’re expecting to find a Jamie Fraser, Richard Cypher or similar love interest-come-swashbuckling hero, you might want to look elsewhere for a book boyfriend. What this book does deliver is complex characters – male and female – foregoing many of the usual fantasy tropes while avoiding a lot of the medievalish mindset, especially regarding women’s rights, which I found particularly refreshing given the slew of fantasy novels that retreat to the middle ages.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to future installments in this genre-defying series, but it wasn’t quite a five star read for me. Unwrapped Sky scores 4/5 ink splats.