What would you do if everything you believed was called into question? What if you found out you were wrong?
Young Arjin is caught in the web of an ancient truce. Barely into his adulthood, he is given as tribute to the mysterious Najadira, part of a race of nigh-immortal horned warriors known as the Ansari. But Arjin is no innocent. Since his childhood, he has been trained for this day, groomed by the temple priests for a singular purpose: not to please the Ansari, but to murder him and free his people from the terms of their agreement.
Najadira, though, is old and jaded, and unsurprised by Arjin's true nature. Still, he chooses to keep Arjin near to him, finding that the young man's zeal quickens his old blood like few before him ever did. He allows Arjin access into his world, a world of beauty and wonder that had before now been denied. And as Arjin learns more about Najadira, he begins to question his teachings about the Ansari. Ultimately, he must choose between taking a life in the service of his beliefs or abandoning his duty and thereby condemning his soul to the decadence and sin surrounding him.
This is an interesting story about discovering oneself and getting second chances. The entire story revolves around only Arjin and Najadira, as there are no secondary characters to speak of. This book's plot is very interesting. Usually, in most books, the big problem(s) that the characters have to overcome in order to get their happy ever after are big, external, out of the heroes' control that they must fight against. Well in this book, it's a bit different. Arjin has to overcome the false beliefs instilled in him while Najadira has to overcome his ennui. The characters are their own worst and sole enemies, which is an unusual twist. Most books have a hint of that, but that was all this book was about. Now that may not sound very exciting, but Ms. Li does a wonderful job of portraying their inner struggles, particularly Arjin's. I felt connected to the characters and eagerly reading to try and learn more about both of them.
Arjin first comes off as a righteous warrior, but then he turns into a bit of a brat. A confused, young, tad naïve brat, but still a brat. He was raised with strict morals, yet the very things he was trained to do go against his faith. There were parts of the story where I just wanted to smack some sense in him and tell him to let his stubbornness go. Najadira is a bit of a mystery. He doesn't entirely make sense for most of the book, until you discover all the reasons he let Arjin stay and why he is who he is now. I just wanted to cry for him, cuddle him, and let him know everything would be okay.
The world in this book is very fascinating. There is a clear divide between the humans and the Ansari. The main human religion, the group that trained Arjin, believes that pleasure and anything related to it are immoral, including homosexuality. Meanwhile, the Ansari celebrate all things pleasure related. These differences are very extreme, yet Ms. Li doesn't make them seem too fantastical or unbelievable. In my mind, I saw the human's world as being like the Dark Ages while the Ansari's world was reminiscent of the decadence of the Renaissance at its peak. They are almost exact opposites, which makes the clash of wills and minds between Arjin and Najadira even more interesting.
Now, the only problem I had with this book was also with the plot. It seemed to drag on at times and while I like the idea of the book being solely about the two characters coming to terms with themselves and one another, there were parts of the story I was tempted to skip, that gave me a "been there, done that" feeling. I think if the story had been shorter or had some more external forces in play, it would have been more exciting and wouldn't have dragged along as much.
All in all, I greatly enjoyed this book. It was a very unusual read and Ms. Li is a wonderful writer. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking to try something new.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*