Byren Rolen Kingson, a prince of the kingdom of Rolencia, is only seven minutes younger than his twin, Lence, making Lence the heir to the throne. That is fine with Byren, who has no interest in ruling Rolencia, but strange things are happening. Suddenly, the brother with whom he has been close all their lives, is not happy with him, and the terrifying forecast made by the old seer at the start of the book seems all too possible.
And Byren has other troubles. His cousin and best friend, Orrade, is declaring his love for Byren, the girl Byren loves thinks he prefers her brother, warlords out in the mountains may be on the rampage and Byren’s father is sending him into the middle of it.
At some time in the past, during King Rolen’s teens, there was a rebellion by the Servants of Palos, an organization with gay links and renegade Power Workers supported them, killing Rolen’s father and brother. As a result, gay men are definitely not welcome in Rolencia and anyone born with something called Affinity is banished, executed or sent to an abbey where he or she will be trained to use their power for the benefit of the kingdom. The youngest son of the royal family, Fyn, is there already – and there may be another family member with the unwanted gift…
The world-building in this book is fascinating and, to be honest, my favourite part of it. What is Affinity? While you can be born with it, there are things called seeps that bring it up from under the earth, so is it a genetic thing or is it to do with the planet? Perhaps this will be revealed in a future volume.
The society is more or less mediaeval Europe, but with additions. Instead of a Church, there is a god and goddess, although they are served by monks and nuns with Affinity. The entire novel takes place in winter, when the lakes, rivers and canals are frozen hard, making skating a viable form of travel, sometimes faster than going by horse, where there is a short cut. Everyone skates. Such heraldic animals as manticores and phoenixes (or, in this world, foenixes) are real and have a normal life cycle like any other animal, although they are known as Affinity beasts. There are unistags, rather than unicorns and leogryfs rather than hippogriffs (although the hippogriff is, I have read, a joke animal created long after heraldry came into being), but when you carry a unistag on your shield, you know there are real ones out there.
I quite like all the politics, which is reflected in a game called Duelling Kingdoms, not unlike the game of Thud in Terry Pratchett’s novel of the same name.
I did wonder whether King Rolen had thought out his strategy of putting all those people with powers into abbeys, where anyone with ambition or resentment has access to followers with a variety of powers. If it was me, I’d be putting my son there to make sure he became abbot and supported me, not to get rid of the runt of the litter.
But then, King Rolen isn’t the smartest character in the book and has issues that blind him.
And there are two more volumes to come, tying up all the ends. Hopefully, they will answer all the questions this book raises.