GENERAL SPOILER WARNING
Nights in Sordan were never dark.
Ooooooh. This book. Epic fantasy and grimdark fans definitely need to check this one out! It’s dark and brutal and epic and intense and shocking and just WOW. Stephens doesn’t hold back at all and by the end of the book I was trying to get to the end as fast as possible to find out what happens to Dorilian, Lev, Marc and the rest. I WAS STRESS.
Except Daimonaeris, truly one of the worst.
“How sad it would be if we shunned love rather than let it open us to the bitterness of loss. There, in the dark places of the soul, is where we find our humanity. You, my friend, have never been more completely alive than you are now as you struggle to make sense of what is left to you.”
Throughout the entire book, my feelings basically boiled down to: PROTECT DORILIAN AND LEV AT ALL COSTS! (Although about halfway through I added Marc to the list. I struggled a bit with him at first, but he really grew on me and I was Team Marc and Dorilian by the end.) Like, I don’t care that Dorilian’s a bit of an arrogant, prickly prince. The lads have both freaking earned it with all they’ve been through.
TRAUMA FROM SCENE ONE.
Light yet pulsed in the tiny body, but he knew so little about babies. His tutors had no prepared him for such things as this. He knew only that the baby’s mind was quiet. Not silent—not as his mother’s now was, unfindable—merely quiet. He could tell, though, that his brother knew him.
These poor boys. Like, I do not blame Dorilian one iota for hating everyone and everything around him other than his brother because that opening scene was traumatising to read. It also very much shapes the tone of this epic, political, immensely bloody grimdark fantasy. He and Lev were just wonderful and I loved how their love for each other formed the foundation of the book.
Now, Sordaneon is dense. It’s immense. It’s rich and detailed and it took me a little while to sink into the complexity of the world! This is definitely the kind of book where I require a pen for underlining passages, accrue several folded pages, and conduct frequent checks to the Appendix at the back.
Note: I found the Appendix incredibly helpful for wrapping my head around the world building, the various houses and connections between the characters, and the backstory of the world of Sordaneon. I definitely recommend checking it if you, like me, often find yourself overwhelmed the first time you dive into a new epic fantasy world. And this one isn’t just the land, but a massive backstory of the world’s creation and devastation and rebuilding and time and descendants and bloodlines. IMMENSE. I will admit I struggled in the first few chapters to remember who was related to whom, so the Appendix, which had all the names, all the bloodlines, all the houses and entities, was very beneficial for me! The worldbuilding is vast in a truly awe-inspiring way, and honestly reminds me a bit of Tolkien’s legendarium. I will say by about 1/3~ I felt like I had a much better grip on all the competing factions and didn’t have to check it quite as much. If Dune, Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones all got together and made a book baby, it would be rather like Sordaneon, which is to say that it’s brilliantly done, but took me a hundred pages to really get the hang of it all, something that often happens to me and epic fantasies. And once I got the hang of all the names and power structures and alliances, it was easy to sink into the world along with Dorilian and the others. I’m absolutely in awe of how many layers Stephens brought to the strange world of the Rill and all those fighting for power.
“Before Hestya, the Sordaneons were one of Marc Frederick’s great conquests. But now look: Marc Frederick wonders if Sebbord has power he never guessed at or if it is in the hands of another. Essera’s masses clamor for Sebbord to open the Rill to Stauberg, and its nobles clamor just as loudly that he must not be allowed to do it. They both want the Rill and fear it. They fear Deben and Sebbord alike! And everyone wonders about you.”
I think this quote really sums up the theme of the book. Everyone wants control, everyone mistrusts everyone, everyone has a game to play, pieces to move, aims to achieve – and no one wants to move an inch in any direction. With Dorilian, who will never move past his mother’s murder and how it impacted his brother for life, this means that the heir is ANGRY. So very, very angry. And each time someone picks at his wounds or tries to direct him, he lashes out. What’s more is that he’s smart. Almost too smart for his own good. Something characters like Marc Frederick, who wants unity and will go to great lengths to enforce that unity, notices long before Dorilian cares to admit it.
Dorilian is a great character and honestly my favourite. While he’s rich and arrogant about his birth right, his opening chapter put me firmly on his side. I just wanted him and Lev to be protected. It’s very clear from the onset that the pair have enemies on all sides, so Dorilian’s attitude made sense to me. He has no reason to like or trust anyone outside of his very small circle because all he’s ever known is being treated as if he’s the enemy. My hope for the series is that he and Lev will end up some place peaceful by the end.
The answer bore a sincere spine. But there was muscle to it, an entire skeleton of other purposes sheathed in cunning ambitions. A viable thing.
The side/supporting characters had that great quality of being fascinating even when utterly frustrating (I am looking at YOU, evil siblings). I did find it really hard to like Stefan throughout pretty much all of it, although once he started to grow up a bit, he was more tolerable. And he was a very interesting, complicated foil for Dorilian and I am curious to see where they go in the next book. Will Stefan and Dorilian learn to get along, as Marc always hoped? I am curious to find out! On the other hand, I quite liked Jonthan, his uncle. (Also, JONTHAN!!!!! WHYYYYYY!!!!) Marc Frederick was in equal measure fascinating, impressive, loving, and someone I wanted to slap with my glove, lmao. (AND BY THE END I ADORED HIM. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. ;_;)
I can’t wait to see where Stephens takes the rest of this series and I’m gonna be here, cheering on Dorilian and Lev every step of the way.
Thank you so much to the author for a paperback review copy of the book!