The Crimson Empire 1
“Fear is the Sword and Scepter of the Church and the Crown. Fear is the Shackles Upon Your Limbs. Fear is the Blindfold You Wear. Fear is the Poison in Your porridge, making You Sick. Making You Die. The pope Laughs as You Weep. She drinks Your Tears. The queen smacks Her lips as You Work Yourself to Death. She drinks Your Blood.”
So what’s the book about?
Growing old stinks. There is not much left of the woman Zosia once was. Gone is her youth, gone is her cobalt blue hair that gave her the name by which every man, woman and child on the star knew her. But at the side of her husband Leib, all that was fine. With Leib, she could put her dark past behind her – the Rebellion, the Cobalt Company, her Five Rogues, even the Crown. She staged her death and disappeared into the anonymity of a small mountain village on the edge of the Crimson Kingdom. Twenty years ago now. She believed her body and her were safe. A terrible mistake. One morning a cavalry unit rides into her village and slaughters the entire population. Zosia is the only one to escape. Looks like she’s not quite forgotten after all. Determined to find out who is out to get her and who is responsible for the massacre, Zosia sets out for revenge. It’s time for Cold Cobalt to rise from the dead. Legends from the old wars are stirring everywhere. On the Flawless Isles, the young Princess Ji-hyeon is to fulfil her fathers’ ambitious plans, a bitter Scarlet Colonel Hjortt is on the hunt for Zosia’s villains, and Portolés, a servant of the Church of the Black Chain, must learn what faith really means in the midst of these times of devils and heroes …
Why I wanted to read this series?
This book was recommended to me by my favourite bookshop, Otherland. It would probably never have occurred to me to read this book, as I hadn’t noticed anything about it on Twitter or other social media platforms. That’s why I’m all the happier when good advice in a bookshop uncovers treasures that you could never discover yourself, despite the internet.
These aspects attracted me the most while reading.
- The world design is extensive and is brought visually before the reader’s eye with detail and the power structure and resulting fronts consist not only of the Scarlet Empire but also of the Cobalt Blue Company and the religious Black Pontiff, who stands for the Church in this world. The world was also designed as if the myths and legends from the Middle Ages had come true. Witches, devils and other creatures from times long past existed. Thus, on the one hand, the book combines familiar fantasy elements, but manages to place them in a context other than the conventional medieval-European one. It is a really wacky fantasy world – with an extraordinary landscape design, monsters, magicians, devils, magical gates, evil forces, an oppressed people of mixed creatures, fearless warriors, a state marked by discord between crown and church with a brutal faith.
- The story shines through its grimdark components, because here you get bloody fights, grey characters and plots that might rather not be expected in a dazzling fantasy world. And what must not be missing in good grimdark books is, of course, black humour. Even the good characters have their weaknesses, be it drug addiction or vanity in excess, which at some point become their undoing. Thus, nothing is predictable in this story, but characters change their ways and show their cruel ways. Even many characters who at first appear to be good gradually reveal their true nature, which involves bloodthirsty and sometimes heinous acts. Moreover, characters who could be described as evil have more heart than expected.
- A Crown for Cold Silver has distinct characters, all of whom have some kind of dramatic background. Some are more clearly themed in this book than others. At the same time, the individual characters are always confronted with their past, and one notices that despite the many years, the characters have not really changed. Almost all of them have a wicked but sympathetic streak, a lot of self-irony and a loose mouth. It is hard to apply black and white thinking here. The dialogues between the characters are full of black humour and sarcasm, so that the story is lightened up a bit. I found them believable, intriguing and endearing, from the prominent players to the last extra. I liked that so many characters are no longer young, because I am bothered by the latent ageism in fantasy. There are also no typical genders in this book, but male and female cannot be separated at all, so there were also many strong women! Those chain pendants with their mysterious anathemas were particularly well done. They seemed very sectarian to me; again, something I find very exciting and would like to read more of. The slow narrative style allowed me to build a unique bond with each character.
- The central anti-hero Maroto took my heart by storm. I fell for his brittle charm in an instant and had no trouble imagining that this impressive man had been involved in the revolutionary army 20 years earlier. You notice that he is so plagued by his past and doesn’t really know where his path is leading. Only when he hears that Zosia, who led the revolutionary army back then and they called themselves friends, is leading an army again, does he have a goal that gives him hope. Especially Maroto’s backstory makes you feel for him, because he is actually a sensitive man for whom friendship and love are very important. And you take his companion Purna to your heart, because she always wants the best for him and the two of them grow together into an inseparable team. And of course he is not granted a good ending.
So what are my final thoughts about it?
This is somewhat more demanding fare, a deep, complex world into which you are thrown without much explanation, but with time you see the connections and actually find your way around without any problems. The first chapters are perhaps a little difficult to read because of the detailed writing style, but you get used to it relatively quickly and I liked all the characters, from whose perspective the events are described. However, due to the slow progression of the story, it took me some time to get a picture of the world and to really understand the domination. However, once this hurdle is overcome, the tension increases enormously and the story is full of exciting twists and situations. The story has it all, nothing is as it seems and all the characters pursue their own goals and plans, which I found extremely exciting. In addition, the book is simply funny. Alex Marshall demonstrates a casual, subtle sense of humour that flashes out repeatedly without undermining the seriousness of the plot or dragging it into ridicule. Having read many grimdark books that often blended, it was refreshing to read a book that was both gritty and dark but also very human and contained a lot of humour. Especially towards the end, the story ramps up tremendously, things go wrong that were supposed to work out, leaving questions unanswered and leaving the reader wanting – More!
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