This book has such amazing world-building that I absolutely went and put a hold on the next book in the series as soon as I was done with this one. I mean, Western gunslingers meets Arabian Nights? Sign me up! The land of Miraji is a stand-in for the Middle East in this terrific alternate world that, astoundingly, also features heroic characters from the Far Eastern stand-in of Xicha and villainous colonizers from Gallan, clearly modeled after the French (with really cool callbacks to the other major powers of our earth.) There’s also a heroic genderfluid character, so there is a lot of excellent representation in addition to our heroine, a gunslinging Miraji girl who just wants to escape her small town of Dustwalk and decide her own fate, and who winds up participating in an exiled prince’s rebellion.
The only problem is that the storytelling is kind of not great. I mean, it’s not terrible, it just needs a lot of work on pacing and paying attention to detail and not making absurd leaps of logic. It’s serviceable, and with such a great setting the lapses are easy to forgive, but I spent way too much of the book going “but wait” either because something felt too rushed or contradicted something from pages earlier (or just made no damn sense at all.) I’m hoping Alwyn Hamilton’s skills improve for the second book, tho in all honesty, my fears are not assuaged by the tagline “Forget everything you thought you knew…” Given how I often felt I had to conveniently forget things just to enjoy this novel, the fact that that’s a direct command for the next book bodes ill.
The good news, tho, is that storytelling is a skill that grows stronger with practice, so I’m optimistic that Ms Hamilton will come through. Her world-building on its own is really terrific and inclusive, and those are much harder traits to learn.