When the gods shaped the continent into five kingdoms to be ruled by their progeny, they did not account for the greed of men. When they created the Order from their god-blessed followers to mediate between realms, they neglected to plan against the hoarding of power. War between the royalists and the godly was inevitable.
Five centuries later, the borders between kingdoms are impenetrable. No branded-born Marked can cross them without burning to ash, except the Order’s Stewards. But a damaging new war has been prophesied, one that haunts the Order, one that will come to pass if Carved traitors roam free and brandless-born Flawed are left alive.
It starts with one girl that survives the impossible. Kaianne, the Carved. It takes shape through one prince with ambition. Andreiyes, the Marked. It hinges on one grieving man who is ready to give up hope. Rau, the Steward. Three people bound by fate – whether they like it or not.
“Don’t you sound the romantic fool. Love cannot fill empty bellies or stop the swing of a blade. It’s pointless. It’s a wasted emotion that hinders at the worst possible moment.” – Kaianne
Carved Amidst the Shadows is a dark epic fantasy story, first in the Brands of Taelgir series, written by M.T. Fontaine, one of the SPFBO9 participants. A book that was on my radar after the recommendation of friends whose criteria I trust; and I can say that I enjoyed many elements of this book, such as the intricate political schemes, a slow-burn enemies to lovers romance and the detailed and rich worldbuilding.
The plot starts when Kaianne's life is broken into a million pieces, after her brother is born as a Flawed, bringing the assassination of all of her family; she's only saved due to the help of her brother's best friend, prince Andreiyes. Forced to have the life of a Carved, she starts a quest for revenge against those that ended with her family's life. She was a girl that had everything except for certain obligations, and after these traumatic moments, she will be forced to mature and grow, to adapt to the hard life of an outcast.
With the time, Andreiyes decides to start training as a warrior, to be the first noble doing that. Some revelations from his father, and his own ambition, make him start questioning the beliefs that all people assumed as true, beliefs that give the Order an immense amount of power over the monarchs; he wants to shake off the yoke they have over the different kingdoms of Taelgir. A path that will end intertwining his fate with Kaianne's one, years after their last encounter.
“The weight of a death on your hands, especially the first…It makes you question who you are, what you have done, what it meant. Then you spend time wondering if it was truly deserved. If you are like me, every kill shall haunt you every spare moment you have.” – Andreiyes
And this second encounter between Kaianne and Andreiyes marks the start of a delicious subplot, a slow burn enemies to lovers which Fontaine inserts super well into the plot, as the natural evolution in the relationship of two people that are condemned to collaborate if they want to overthrow the Order.
Fontaine adds a third character that acts as a counterpoint to the plot, Master Rau, giving us an insight into the Order's politics and rigid control they have over the different kingdoms of Taelgir; they are the few Marked that can travel between kingdoms, and that's the reason they spend so much time looking for Flaweds and Carveds. But even in this kind of character, not everything is black or white, as we can see him trying to protect somebody weaker than him, helping a kid survive; Master Rau can feel things for other people.
“We keep our loved ones in our hearts forever. She will never leave you, but the world goes on whether we want it to or not.” – Rau
Even if this book is a character driven story, we cannot conclude this review without talking about the extensive worldbuilding that Fontaine introduces; Taelgir is a land with history, created by gods who didn't predict the evolution of it. A war is prophesied by the Order, increasing their tyranny over the different monarchs; but common people are also affected by their persecution of Flaweds. There's also some myths introduced by the characters that I would like to see more explored in maybe a prequel novella.
In summary, if you are looking for a dark fantasy, inspired by the medieval world, with some romance and morally grey characters, Carved Amidst the Shadows is a book that you will like. Fontaine has revealed to be really promising, and I can't wait to see how the story of our characters continues!
Writing has been a steeple of my daily diet since I first learned how to pen my first word. It started out with notes left behind for family members and short stories, to writing skits for the neighborhood kids. I’d wake up in the middle of the night unable to go back to sleep because of the thousands of ideas floating in my head. Back when I was twelve to thirteen, I actually begun writing my first book. Unfortunately, around that time I fell into an acute hormonal depression. Following the start of taking medications for a couple years, I lost the will and creativity to write. It wasn’t until 2017 (over a decade later) that I finally started getting that urge again to write, and I haven’t stopped since. About a year ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to start writing part-time instead of just fitting in a half-hour here and a half-hour there.
I’m an introvert at its finest. If I could bury myself in books and my writing, whenever my kids were at school, I would. I have a wonderful partner in life, two kids, and two fur babies. I’ve lived in three countries: the grand canyon state in the US, France, and now Spain. I speak both french and english fluently and am working on refining my spanish, however difficult that currently is since I work solely from home. One day, I hope to make authoring my day-job, but until then I’m a part-time insurance finance manager who gorges on tea, lots and lots of tea.
That’s probably more than you wanted to know about me, but you clicked the button so it’s on you!