Book – Blessed Epoch Volume 1
Author – August Li
Star rating - ★★★☆☆
No. of Pages – 1093
POV – 3rd person, multi-POV
Would I read it again – Probably not. It's just too long winded.
Genre – LGBT, Fantasy, Magic, MMM
** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK FOR MY READING PLEASURE **
Reviewed for Divine Magazine
Blessed Epoch is a series about a powerful mage, Yarrow, a knight of much renown, Duncan, and an assassin, Sasha, who are all thrown together by a King with a secret, to deliver a prince to a wedding. On the surface it sounds simple and intriguing, but it turns out to be so much more complicated than first thought.
Warnings. Yes, this series needs them. Trigger warnings are for violence, torture, historical gang rape, incestual rape, flaying, rape as torture, death, slavery, war, murder and mental health issues, though thankfully nothing too graphic is ever shown on page, in detail. The word 'insane' is thrown about a lot, but makes sense as the only claim made in the era for a mage that most people are terrified of. It also draws of topics of insanity, multiple personality, disability (physical and hearing) and possession.
I'm a fan of August Li, normally, but this one had too many issues for me. It's a solid 3 star, no question about it, but it was more a case of being “okay” than “fantastic”.
The book started with a glossary that was huge and very detailed, which would normally be great. However, it looks big when you first see it and it's a little intimidating thinking that you might have to remember some of that information for later, when it pops up in the story. That's not true. Most of the important stuff is explained at the time of the use of the word, just not in great detail. So the glossary is a great little addition if you want to go back and read more about the individual thing. Otherwise, it's not much more than a handy reference tool for those, like me, with a terrible memory.
There is a lack of consistency within the series, in terms of plot strength and characterisation. In book 1, Yarrow was strong, unstoppable and erratic, while he became weak and emotional in book 2, leaving him nothing more than a child in book 3, with barely any strength at all. Yet, the glimpses we see of him in book 4 show that old spark back, which has really only made an appearance in books 2 and 3 when someone Yarrow loved was threatened. This felt wrong, considering all he'd been through and done, while Sasha grew more and more with each book, leaving Duncan the only consistently boring character throughout.
There were editing issues throughout the entire bundle, with words missing or extra words added. It didn't diminish the understanding of the sentence, but it was noticable. And I found the use of the words 'bairn' for a title and 'tam' in place of 'sir' really confusing, because I'm Scottish and these words actually mean something to me, already. It was really disorientating to constantly hear people being called Tam something-or-other, yet having to remember that it was never their name. And trying to think of 'bairn' – a term used for a child – being used as a title just felt contradictory and sounded stupid in my head when reading about Bairn Duncan (though I agree with the sentiment, in this case).
The consistency of sex (overdone in book 1, for example, while rare in book 2 and inconsistent within book 3) was also a problem. I ended up skimming the sex by book 3, because it just went on for so many pages. It seemed like everyone, no matter the danger, the risk, no matter how injured or exhausted they were, had plenty of time for sex. Eventually, it just got a little old. There is definitely a hint of sadomasichism within Sasha, who likes biting to the point of blood during sex in the first two books, but even that was inconsistent. I also had a problem with the ridiculous conversations during sex, which often extended to repetitively asking if it was alright to 'take' someone, literally moments after they were begging for that very thing. It got a little tiresome, after a while.
The Order of the Crimson Scythe, for me, were a little pathetic as enemies. Sasha had a great skill to use within the tasks they needed it for, but the order never once achieved what they were aiming for when facing Sasha. Now, they say he was talented, but I refuse to believe that they have no one who is equal to or exceeds his talents after spending thousands of years training people the exact same way he'd been trained.
I find it really annoying and frustrating that so many things are repeated, not just throughout the series, but even within individual books. Like the fact that Sasha wishes Duncan could accept him; Duncan forcing Yarrow to eat; Duncan doubting Yarrow, being afraid of him, wishing he wouldn't use his power, wishing Sasha wasn't an assassin. Like I said above, it's all about Duncan being a dunce and it gets really annoying to read about it, over and over again, while already not liking him.
I loved Yarrow. He was the shining star of the series for me, along with his doppelganger Octavian. His journey was by far the most interesting when he had his creature, but I also loved the Fane/Hale plot arc and wish it had been utilised better. I really didn't care for the whole Sasha/Duncan parts where they were getting by without Yarrow and getting embroiled in court/Royal matters. For me, I'd have been happy if the story never deviated away from Yarrow's POV or his journey. Maybe if it had been solely about Yarrow I would have enjoyed it more.
For me, the addition of Cairn and Covenant, Archer's Regret and the future book of Wine and Roses could have been compiled into a Volume 2 of related stories, rather than adding two of the three into this bundle, where they didn't feel cohesive or logical in timeline or plot arc. The parts of Cairn and Covenant that are important could easily have been assimilated into Yarrow's story, through a secondary character as I mentioned above, to keep everything important within the one bundle.
Overall, the stories are all connected by the same characters and a singular plot arc, of Yarrow's destiny, but I found them too fragmented and inconsistent to 'love' them. I enjoyed some parts more than others, some characters more than others and some books more than others. But I'm still left with questions:
Who ordered the assassins to target Sasha? Why? Why are the Goddesses hoarding magic and what for? Why can't the Goddesses see what's inside Yarrow? Why didn't they recognise the power of the creature inside of him? Will having Fane's essence inside of him alter Yarrow at all or is it just a way to get rid of Fane from the plot? Why isn't Hale helping when the world is crumbling around him and his oblivious existence is threatened? Doesn't he feel any responsibility towards Yarrow at all, considering it's partly his fault that he's in the situation he's in?
However, what annoys me is that this isn't a complete series. It would have made more sense to include book 5: Calling and Culling, as part of this bundle or ended the bundle as a trilogy, to be picked up in a second volume, as the blurb for book 5 hints at an end to the plot arc of the first three books here. Whether it delivers will have to wait until I've read it to decide. Either way, there is no ending to this bundle that satisfies me. The end of book 3 leaves us with promises of more, Yarrow in limbo, and everything up in the air. Book 4 ends with Octavian plotting how to get close to Yarrow and figuring out which side he wants to take in the future, while the short, Archer's Regret, hints at a future for Sylvain, but gives away nothing about where it will take place or whether he'll re-enter the series. To me, everything about these three endings leave me screaming “cliffhanger” and feeling frustrated that I've read over a thousand pages to reach no ending.
In the end, while the plot arc is interesting enough to follow through on, it's not a series that I would eagerly return to re-read. And, if there is ever a book 6 or more, I will avoid my usual re-reading of the entire series so far before catching up, and just jump straight in, regardless of whether I can remember the nuances or not. There's just too much here to re-read before another helping.
Right now, I'm going straight into book 5, then Other Paths book 1, before I forget who the characters are or what their plans are. In the future, though, I'll be hesitant to pick up another book in this series, so I seriously hope that book 5 offers an ending I can be happy with, because this bundle didn't. There is a huge cliffhanger that leaves me with more questions than answers and I don't know if there are any more books planned for this series, but it may be a case of me being happier leaving an open ending than delving back into such a complicated world that is merely “okay”.