Book Review: The Amber Crown by Jacey Bedford
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: DAW Books
Length: 480 pages
While The Amber Crown wasn’t the perfect book—and I certainly had my issues with some of the characterization—at the end of the day, it was still solidly entertaining and made for wonderful escapism and perfect light reading. The fact that it’s a standalone fantasy novel is also a nice bonus.
The story takes place in the land of Zavonia, a setting heavily inspired by the history and cultures of the Baltic region in the 17th century. It is told through three main viewpoints: Valdas, a Captain of the King’s High Guard; Mirza, a witch-healer from a band of nomadic Landstriders; and Lind, an assassin hired to kill the king. As the book opens, the deed has already been done, and all around the city, alarm bells are ringing to report the monarch’s murder which had occurred on the one night Valdas decided to take off. He immediately becomes the main suspect, likely the result of a frame job set up by the true masterminds behind King Konstantyn’s assassination. All his men were also accused of treason and executed, and so Valdas is forced to flee the city in search of other allies to avenge his king’s death.
After some misadventure, Valdas winds up gravely injured and in the care of Mirza, a Landstrider whose band was traveling through the area at the time. With her powers of dreamwalking, she enters the Captain’s mind and learns of his personal quest, realizing that she is fated to play a vital role in his mission as well. Together, they part ways with her band and set off for a new course to save Zavonia before their land can be destroyed by the usurper who now sits on the throne.
Meanwhile, the assassin Lind has completed his job of killing the king and is looking for a quick and discreet way to get out of dodge. An opportunity presents itself when his innkeeper, who is also a spymaster and information broker, offers him a large sum of money to transport a young woman out of city. Posing as husband and wife, they make for an inconspicuous couple, and Lind thinks this might actually be one of his easier jobs—that is, until he discovers the true identify of the young woman and why she has to flee.
The Amber Crown is a purely character-driven story, there’s no denying that. I also wouldn’t say any of the characters are entirely likeable, i.e. Valdas is sex-obsessed in a way that puts a bad taste in my mouth, Mirza is comes across as a bit of a pushover, and Lind is a killer-for-hire who simply thinks of himself as a tool and hence holds little remorse for any of his actions, and their list of flaws goes on and on. That said, I can enjoy a story even if I find its characters distasteful, or recognize that many of their shortcomings are important to the plot or to their overall development. Also, I must admit the character flaws made this novel more memorable, almost like they were written in with the intention to make a strong impression.
And it’s not like the characters don’t have any redeeming qualities. In fact, many of their heroic traits come through in the end that make it easy to root for them. Our three protagonists ultimately become a team working towards the same goals, despite all their conflicting interests (which made for some good drama).
In terms of the story, we have the usual hallmarks of a fantasy saga. There’s a good deal of sex, action, conspiracy, violence, and magic. World-building was a tad light, but considering The Amber Crown is a standalone novel, that’s a tradeoff I didn’t particularly mind. Some stories are made for multi-book series, while others have the simplicity that can be told in a single volume, and here we have an example of the latter. Still, despite its straightforwardness, there was plenty in the plot to keep me interested, including fascinating side characters, intriguing mystery, and dark magic shenanigans. The pace was also snappy, helped by short chapters, so on the whole, this went by real quickly.
Bottom line, I wouldn’t say The Amber Crown is for everyone, especially if you prefer more meat on your fantasy, but if you’re not feeling in the mood for something too long or too time consuming, this would do nicely.