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Valley of Embers by Steven Kelliher is primarily the story of Kole Reyna and Linn Ve’Ran. Although Linn Ve’Ran is a skilled and dedicated hunter and warrior, she is not an Ember like Kole, a Landkist given power to control flame by the land. But the land from which Kole’s power comes is not the titular valley where Kole’s and Linn’s people live, but the desert from which their ancestors fled from the war between the Sages. Before he fell in battle, the King of Ember struck a bargain with the Sage White Crest to shelter his people in the valley. Separated from the desert for decades, those born as Embers are fewer and weaker each generation. Instead, some are gifted with the native Landkist power of the valley, the healing and dreaming of the Faeykin. But it is the Embers who are especially valued, to fight the Dark Kind who have returned, bearing the corruption of the Eastern Dark from whom the Emberkin fled years before.
Everyone wonders what had become of the White Crest, who was to be their protector. Some think that he fell shortly after the King of Ember, when he shattered the land to turn back the Eastern Dark. Others think that in his isolation, he is unaware of their plight, or thinks that they can handle things themselves, or is too busy fighting the far greater threat of the Eastern Dark. Since the night of his mother’s death while seeking out the White Crest and the dream he had of her fall, Kole has believed that the White Crest has turned against them, and it is he who sends the Dark Kind.
But while Kole is given permission to seek out the White Crest and get some answers, he is delayed when he suffers a grievous injury by a Sentinel, one of the Dark Kind’s lieutenants, who can convert humans to their cause. While he fights the darkness that seeks to turn him, Linn Ve’Ran gathers some friends and strikes out without him. Her party quickly runs into trouble when they encounter an army of Dark Kind besieging the Valley’s largest city, Hearth, and only half of them make it to the mountains where the White Crest dwells.
Once Kole recovers, he hastens to catch up, but is sidetracked by the same siege. When Linn’s and Kole’s parties come together for the final confrontation with the White Crest, the plot twists come fast and furious. It is an exciting conclusion, with alliances shifting so quickly that it’s hard to tell whom to root for.
The author uses ornate language, filled with imagery and heavy with meaning. Once I got used to it, I thought it worked well most of the time, though occasionally the prose stumbled, or the imagery got in the way of the storytelling, and I lost track of what was happening. This was exacerbated by noticeable grammatical errors and erroneous homonyms. I don’t expect self-published books to have the same degree of copyediting as professionally published works, but I think this book could have used some additional proofreading.
There are a number of points of view used in this novel. Kole and Linn are the most important ones for the main story. Iyana, Linn’s sister, and Ninyeva, the Faey Mother, give us the view from Last Lake, the hometown Kole and Linn left behind. Both Iyana and Ninyeva are Landkist after the Faeykin, and while Kole and Linn quest in the world, they quest in dreams. Their story is the slowest to build, though it does have some tense moments. The siege of Hearth is shown through the eyes of Talmir, the captain of the city’s militia. The viewpoints switch by chapter, which helps build tension when it switches from those in immediate danger to more domestic scenes. But it can be frustrating as well, as the scene break does not always return to where we left off, and some key events are only learned about in retrospect. And at times, the exact chronologies of each viewpoint were hard to line up.
As I mentioned earlier, alliances shift a lot near the end, as the various factions, only hinted at earlier in the book, come into clearer focus. The White Crest and the Eastern Dark have different views of what should be done with the Embers. Even the King of Ember, and his purposes in allying with the White Crest, are called into question. I enjoyed the constant upending of expectations in the finale, the continuous challenging of the right course of action. There was a bit of deus ex machina involved, but I don’t think the finale would have worked as well without it.
Valley of Embers is available on Amazon for $4.99 for the ebook (free for those with Kindle Unlimited), or $15.95 for the paperback.
Donald S. Crankshaw’s work first appeared in Black Gate in October 2012, in the short novel “A Phoenix in Darkness.” He lives online at www.donaldscrankshaw.com.