I received an advanced copy of Darien: Empire of Salt via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank C.F. Iggulden, Michael Joseph, and Penguin Random House UK.
C.F. Iggulden is an alias of Conn Iggulden. The master of historical fiction who has released the critically acclaimed Emperor series and Conqueror series. The slight change of pen name is due to Darien being his first foray into creating a fantasy tale. Darien is the name of a huge city in this fantasy world that houses over a quarter of a million citizens and the majority of the narrative is set within the city walls. There are twelve ruling family’s in this complex political set-up. Each has great influence and almost act as puppeteers controlling the weak figurehead monarch. Unlike a lot of recent fantasy that has staggeringly grandiose fantasy worlds featuring a score of cities and hundreds of characters, Darien focuses more on the individuals, their actions and relationships in a more enclosed environment. There are about 10 main characters that we get to know relatively well in these 350 or so pages. The first half of the book follows about five points of view perspectives and the action sometimes switches mid-chapter to another players antics elsewhere. This switching of perspectives is administered well and it never becomes confusing or disorientating. Towards the end of the book a couple of extra POV’s are added but they are usually in the presence of a person we are familiar with so this is also a seamless transition. There seem to be two types of characters presented here. Individuals that have stunning, special and perhaps even magical abilities and others that seem more normal and human, but this isn’t to say that they lack unique talents. All in all, I think that the characters presented are expertly sculptured. The youth, Arthur Quick, and the hunter, Elias were my personal favourites.
The world does feature magic including rumours of sorcerers or witches, certain individuals knacks, and magic devices. I won’t say too much about this aspect. It isn’t earth-shatteringly original but it is well crafted and creates a real sense of intrigue. There is one scene which bizarrely reminded me of Disney’s Aladdin that is excellent and magic focused.
This story is of quite an adult nature featuring destruction, murder, battles, kidnapping, and blackmail. The narrative is brimming with astonishing set-pieces. A segment at 60% through was as gripping and exciting as the finales of many great stories. Perhaps because I was treated with this gem of a sequence, the ending, although very good, fulfilling and expertly composed seemed a bit flatter in comparison. Although the majority of threads are tied up nicely there were a couple of loose ends and questions are presented as to what will come next. For example, will we follow the same characters? Will it be set a different city entirely somewhere else in the empire? Whatever comes next, I do not doubt Iggulden knows his craft and what follows Darien will be just as good, if not better. To conclude, this is an impressive, action-packed, character focused take on fantasy by the excellent Iggulden. I am looking forward to what the author has in store for us next on his fantasy venture.