It has been a thousand years since the last Seed abandoned their duty. The mists are closing in. Finally, the Morning Bell tolls. A new Seed is born, but is it too late?
The rot eats away at mortals. The Witnesses pray so that they may not turn into one of the forgotten. And the constricting mists infect the lands with fear.
But there is more to this tale than just the Elders and their Seeds. Four mortals will have a part to play in Minethria’s fate. A farmer girl with only love in her eyes. A warrior born to the life of a refugee. A highborn stuck between the realm of gods and men. And a woman running into front lines and away from home.
Will the cycle finally be completed? Or will the mist swallow all?
A seed is born and the evil is slain, so doth another cycle commences. Yet the last Seed born hath turned traitor, and the mists, which had been pushed back, returneth.
CONTENT WARNING (can contain minor spoilers): This book is Grimdark. There is a lot of violence, gore, heavy language. It also deals with very heavy themes like realistic representation of disability, has descriptive sexual content, self-harm, mental illness, rape, and suicidal ideation.
"Minethria was born from Mist, shaped and moulded by the Elder King himself. Many cultures have different names for it. The Bayrish language calls it the Haar, yet the Highers beings name it Nif. Though its shaping comes naturally from the higher being, talented mortals have also shown a proclivity for being able to mould it into equipment or magical objects."
I'm not really sure how I can write a review that can do justice to the much that occurs in the pages of Eleventh Cycle. We have a really complex book, with several layers that give it an incredible amount of depth, from the worldbuilding of Minethria to the characters and how those characters evolve through the story, being a tour de force of grimdark fantasy, proof that we should keep an eye on the talent Kian N. Ardalan has.
Our story brings us to Minethria, a land encircled by the mists, where the prophecy predicts the Eleventh Seed will be born. Four mortals are called to be part of its destiny to become the savior that was promised; from very different origins we will be following their paths and how their experiences will transform them. But let's go by parts, as Jack the Ripper said.
"What happens to those who venture beyond the Haar? Some stories say that you become unravelled. The very fibre of one's being is unmade and returns to its lapping mists. What will happen once the Haar returns to devour us all?"
Eleventh Cycle has one of the best levels of worldbuilding that I've seen in a long time, with a really dark and grim execution. This book is not shy of showing the dark realities that are associated with war and violence.
Multiple races are introduced, enemies between them, in wars that only bring destruction and despair to the land; using different 1st person POVs helps transmit how each one of them sees the world. Ardalan uses a really particular style of narration, mixing these 4 main characters narrating from their perspective to a fifth voice written in 3rd when related to the Seed.
There's one aspect that I found especially interesting that I would like to talk about before passing to the characters, and it is how well the fragmented narration is integrated into the full story. The addition of lore snippets at the start of each chapter adds an extra layer of information about Minethria, similar to what we experiment with Hidetaka Miyazaki's narrative, giving you partial information, letting some empty spaces that you can fill with theories, which will be confirmed or discarded once we continue advancing into the story.
"Upon the end of a Cycle, the sight of a Seed's ascension is a most wondrous sight. A pillar of light pierces down and pulls the Seed up into the Creator's embrace. It can be seen from the whole of Minethria."
If there's another aspect that is at the same level with worldbuilding, is how in contraposition with the darkness of the world, we are given characters we get to connect with them. Ardalan builds deep connections to these characters, which get reinforced by the use of a first-person voice for each one of them, creating a more close connection to them, and giving more impact to what will happen to them. Despite being characters with really different origins, all of them share themes in their experiences, such as friendship, love, and acceptance.
But don't get me wrong, this is one of the darkest novels I've read, one that seriously justifies the use of content warnings, as the worse aspects of a decadent world will be reflected in a really grim way, without any kind of glorification; and that close connection to the characters will make it harder from the emotional standpoint.
And in the center of all those stories, there is the Seed, the cause of the prophecies, the perspective that will be told from a third-person standpoint. And despite all that is expected, the Seed is just a child, incapable of understanding human emotions and making sense of this chaotic violent world.
With these elements, the five stories start as independent ones, which will reunite together and cross paths with the advance in the novel, being really satisfactory in how everything starts to make sense at the end. Despite being a book close to 800 pages, it felt so short.
Eleventh Cycle is a masterpiece of grimdark fantasy, and a serious candidate to be my favourite book of the year (even if we are in February). If you are looking for a dark story with an impressive world, and characters that will let you marked, this is your book. The second book in Mistland series can't come soon enough.
Kian N. Ardalan
Kian N. Ardalan was born in Germany, Dusseldorf to Persian parents and has since traveled between so many places that he sees himself as a person of the world; well, with one exception.
When he wasn’t playing video games or reading novels (mostly Darren Shan and Anthony Horowitz) or trying to convince his parents to watch that R-rated movie about vampires and werewolves, he delved into fantasy worlds of his own making