Hey everyone, hope you’re all well. 🙂
One of the reasons that I love reading Fantasy (whether it be Epic, High, Dark, Heroic, etc.) is that Fantasy writers take chances and aren’t afraid of doing things differently. Tales in which the exhausted trope of ‘the prophesied one’ are upended and refreshed; tales in which magic itself takes a backseat so that the world and he characters shine brighter. These kinds of tales give readers something new to experience, and The Hidden Face is on of those tales.
Here’s the novel’s synopsis:
A face without a face – an unmasking that leaves the mask.
Once every few hundred years the sun god, the Akhen, takes on human form and descends to earth. Each Unmasking of the Face of the Akhen ends one era and begins another; the last one created the Faustian Empire. Where and when will the Face next appear, and who will he – or she – be?
Dayraven, son of a great hero, returns to Faustia after years as a hostage of their rivals, the Magians. Those years have changed him, but Faustia has changed as well; the emperor Calvo now seems eccentric and is controlled by one of Dayraven’s old enemies. Following the brutal death of his old teacher, Dayraven is drawn, together with a warrior woman named Sunniva, into the search for an ancient secret that would change the fate of empires.
Powerful enemies want the secret as well, including a dynasty of magician-kings who were thought to have died out long ago, a mad, murderous hunchback and a beautiful, deadly woman who is never seen. Sunniva and Dayraven fight to survive and to solve the mystery while their own pasts come back to life and the attraction between them deepens.
Looking at the great cover as a starting point (the cover was created by illustrator John Di Giovanni and designer Shawn King), we get the sense that this novel might have a religious-focus, because the cover brings to mind paintings of Jesus Christ – and not only does the cover echo those kinds of paintings, but also inverts them; we’re used to seeing a halo around Jesus’ head, yet in this cover, the focus is the obscuring of the figure’s face. The cover works absolutely as an eye- and interest-catcher, but works even better once you’ve read the novel – if there was an award for ‘Best Cover Accurately Representing a Novel‘, of something similar, the cover of The Hidden Face would win it. Damned well done, John and Shawn. 🙂
Shifting to the characters, Dayraven and Sunniva are both interesting and absolutely central to the plot. Dayraven has spent 15 years as a royal hostage and the tale kicks off upon his return to his home-kingdom; he returns to an seemingly ineffectual Emperor and has to contend with stepping into a situation in which one of his old rivals has amassed power and influence, and when Dayraven is asked to meet one of his old allies an teachers, the plot kicks off. If I have any qualms about the two main characters, one is when Sunniva was introduced- while she holds her own in the narrative and her past, like Dayraven’s, is important, the opening chapters’ focus on Dayraven as the main character and robs her of the shared-spotlight. This book is a book in which two characters solve a mystery, and so the book is about the mystery and not the characters – and even though the characters drive the plot forward as they should, it seems as if Dayraven is behind the wheel and Sunniva is the passenger. Their roles to achieve a balance as the narrative progresses, but due to the Dayraven-focus early on, it feels as if Sunniva is always trying to catch up. My second qualm is actually trite, but being a writer myself, it stood out: Dayraven’s name. Taking into consideration that none of the other characters have similar names (in terms of the name’s construction and meaning: Day-Raven), his name stood out as not really fitting him. The hunchback mentioned in the synopsis has a fitting name, but Dayraven’s name is never explained nor ‘used’, in terms of what it may mean. (if it is, I completely missed it and apologize for being a dumbass)
In terms of character development, the stand-out character for me was The Twister. He, too, is central to the plot, and commend the author on taking us into the mind of a damaged and manipulated individual while shifting the character’s role from that of victim to plot-driver.
One of the other characters, Dayraven’s ‘rival’ mentioned in the synopsis, was the only character I couldn’t remain interested in, but I do believe that this character’s role was well handled, especially when new antagonists are revealed, and even though these new antagonists steal the spotlight from the ‘rival’.
In terms of ‘place’, the history of the novel’s world takes a more prominent role than the world itself – but this isn’t a bad thing. The concept of the Face is really cool, and the manner in which the Face impacts the world and its peoples was excellently handled and explained (in a manner absolutely devoid of info-dumps and boring, lengthy ‘history lessons’).
The plot races along as Dayraven and Sunniva pursue the mysteries rearing into the path, and the author manages an excellent balance between keeping the plot ticking along, giving us glimpses of the world and it’s history, and allowing the characters their space to progress, change and grow.
Where the novel really shines is in how the mystery is pursued and solved – I never expected to read a Fantasy novel which presented a mystery that had to be solved by the decoding of clues, visits to hidden crypts and tombs, and the like. The effect is that we’re given a tight Fantasy Mystery novel in which the mystery and the solving thereof is as interesting as the plot and characters. If you’ve been looking for a Da Vinci-code type tale in a Fantasy setting, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this novel and the mystery at it’s heart.
All in all, The Hidden Face is a strong and entertaining debut and shows the author is adept at giving us the kind of Fantasy we’ve come to enjoy while spicing it with enough to make it stand out in a crowded field. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book, and to another excellent cover from Di Giovanni and King.
8 / 10
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Until next time,