Hello, everyone! It seems like it has been forever since I’ve written and posted a review. There have been so many annual wrap-ups, ‘best of’ lists, and New Year’s posts recently that there just hasn’t been much time for anything else. I’m looking forward to things slowing down again a bit now that the year is underway. Now let’s dive into my first review of 2023, The Sapphire Altar by David Dalglish.
In this epic fantasy from a bestselling author, a usurped prince must master the magic of shadows in order to reclaim his kingdom and his people.
Cyrus wants out. Trained to be an assassin in order to oust the invading Empire from his kingdom, Cyrus is now worried the price of his vengeance is too high. His old master has been keeping too many secrets to be trusted. And the mask he wears to hide his true identity and become the legendary “Vagrant” has started whispering to him in the dark. But the fight isn’t over and the Empire has sent its full force to bear upon Cyrus’s floundering revolution. He’ll have to decide once and for all whether to become the thing he fears or lose the country he loves.
***Thank you to Orbit Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***
This is a release I’ve been looking forward to reading for quite some time. I enjoyed the first book, and this sequel builds on many of the elements I loved in the first story. Unfortunately, there were also some things that just didn’t work for me, which left me with mixed feelings at the end.
First off, I had trouble sinking back into the story, which was odd because there was a useful recap at the beginning that helped to get my memory up to speed on the events of the prior book. I’m honestly not sure why I had so much difficulty at first, but I trudged through the first 25% of the book and couldn’t seem to remain interested in it for more than a chapter or two at a time. I think the large number of POVs may have played a role since I never really had the time to settle into any one character for any length of time. So, it took me quite a ways into the book before getting re-attached to them and re-invested in what was going on.
Some big revelations happened at the end of the first book, and I was curious to see the impact they would have on the characters. There was a significant amount of character growth as a result of the reveals, and I enjoyed quite a few of the character arcs. However, each of them learned the information in different ways, and reading the same explanation of Thanet’s history over and over from the perspectives of alternating characters got old fast. It bogged things down in the middle, and I found myself wishing the story would just move forward. The pace picked up in the second half, and we got battle after battle. I lost count of the number of fights in this book, and Dalglish did a masterful job of bringing each one to life. Battle sequences are definitely one of his strengths as a writer, and I enjoyed reading them. I think it may have crossed the line into too much of a good thing, though, because it began to feel like the characters were just bouncing from battle to battle with no real direction.
That brings me to the plot. It felt a bit all over the place when compared to the first book. Where before there was a fairly linear plan developed by Thorda that gave everything structure, everything in this book just sort of… happened. I never got the sense that the story was moving toward anything in particular other than a showdown with the heir of the God-Incarnate. There wasn’t even really a clear idea about how they would survive that showdown for them to work toward, which cheapened the outcome a bit for me. All the fights in this story also make me less excited for the next book because I assume it will just be more of the same, them fighting and overcoming supposedly unbeatable foes. I did enjoy the parts of the plot tied to Thanet’s past, and the twist at the end definitely made me see some things in a new light. The foreshadowing was so obvious, though, that it took some of the punch out of the surprises, at least for me.
The character arcs were one of my favorite things about this book. Many of the characters became much more well-rounded, and all of them exhibited some sort of growth because of the book’s events. My favorites were Keles and Arn. Keles’ story was deeply impactful and illustrated what can happen when someone’s beliefs shatter and they lose faith in everything they once held dear. Arn was such a sweetheart in this story, and I loved getting to know him better. His struggle with guilt and overcoming the shadows of his past was moving, and seeing his softer side often left me smiling. All in all, I enjoyed Dalglish’s ability to create compelling characters that fall somewhere between good and evil. I also just want to note that I LOVED that Stasia and Clarissa got their moment. It was pretty much perfect.
I also really loved the themes explored in this story. It deepened the exploration of faith considerably compared to the first book, and the magic system was a really fascinating way to explore those ideas. The story also spent a great deal of time examining whether the “safety” of conforming to authoritarianism is worth losing one’s freedom. The horrors of imperialism and colonization were once again on full display, and the story provided a nuanced critique of those power structures and the people who operate them.
Overall, this was a fairly solid continuation of The Vagrant Gods story. If you enjoy sweeping action scenes, gritty examinations of faith, and compelling characters that struggle with morality in the face of oppression, you will likely find something here that you enjoy. I don’t think this was as good of an outing as the first book, though, and it makes me a little less excited about the final upcoming story. Therefore, I rate this book 3 out of 5 stars.