[I received a copy of this novel through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
I'm not sure how to rate this book, so I'll go with 3 stars for now.
It's not a bad book, definitely not. It's actually pretty interesting, with a setting that for once isn't the typical "European medieval fantasy" one, and is closer to a kind of 1001 Nights world. A city in the desert, a little world of culture and trade with tribes from the outside, powerful and rife with intrigue, slum dwellers, thieves, pit fights, all under the watchful eyes of twelve immortal lords (the Kings) and their specially trained guard, the Maidens of the Blade (who are actual daughters of those kings, recruited and trained to serve their fathers, then train their sisters/cousins later). The Maidens have their own rituals, their own strifes, their special brand of loyalty to the Kings, who in turn also have *their* rituals: on the night of Beht Zha’ir, every six weeks, people close their doors and tremble in their homes, for the mysterious and dreadful asirim, servants of the Kings, walk the streets to take away those who have been "chosen". And, of course, the chosen are never to be seen again.
In the middle of this setting, Çedamihn and her friend/heart brother, Emre, wade a world of intrigue: both as runners for Osman, and Çeda as fighter in the pits under the mask of the "White Wolf". When Emre is attacked carrying the second half of a mysterious package, Çeda starts investigating, and soon discovers that she may have to dive at last in yet another world, of magic and legends, of gods and immortal beings: the one where her mother was killed by the Kings, the one where she is meant to avenge her, the one where she lets the adichara petals melt under her tongue to sharpen her sense, and sneaks in the desert at night to witness strange happenings in the sacred gardens full of blooms only the Kings and Maidens are allowed to harvest.
The author also plays on other points of view than Çeda's, and also uses "flashback chapters" to bring in parts of her and Emre's history. I know such techniques aren't always well-liked, but as far as I was concerned, I thought them welcome. The flashbacks are inserted precisely where they matter, highlighting the main plot, and the secondary POVs were useful to grasp other sides of the world, when it wouldn't have made sense for Çeda to live such moments.
In other words: intrigue and enchantment for me.
And yet, I don't really know why, I spent quite some time poising between "want to keep reading" and "let's read something else". Maybe because this wasn't a good period for me to read long fantasy books—in which case, by all means, don't let this prevent you from giving a try at this first volume of the series. (For what it's worth, at the moment, I really don't feel like reading ASoIaF either.) Or maybe because, in some parts, the story moved a bit too slowly, with the plot being fairly obvious for the reader? (Çeda's secret was too easy to guess for me, so by the time she discovered it herself, I had already moved on.)
Basically, the first and last chapters felt exciting. Same with others towards the middle. And then there were lulls.
However, by the end of the book, the setting is, well, ready for more, and different threads are woven. The Moonless Host. Çeda's and Emre's diverging paths, that may yet still bring them together in more than one way. The Kings and the Maidens, and Çeda's involvment in their plots. The strange Meryam and her blood magic, as well as the lord travelling with her—their paths, too, aren't as straightforward as they first appear...
This could definitely lead to something interesting, so I'm likely to keep an eye on this series to see how those plots unfurl.