Although this character-driven, grand-scale fantasy features gay main characters and a gay-centric culture, to classify it as gay fantasy would do A Rising Darkness a great disservice. First and foremost, it is an epic that also works as military-nuanced fantasy, heartrending romance and meaningful social commentary.
The story is narrated by its main character, Meriq ibid-Syrrith, a young boy who, after witnessing the slaughter of his family, is abducted by soldiers and presented as a gift to the crown prince of the fantasy kingdom of Zetaria. Saved from the clutches of the depraved prince by the wizard Anubis, the king’s vizier, Meriq is essentially adopted by the man and raised as his son.
Years pass, and through Anubis’ tutelage, Meriq becomes a powerful wizard himself. But then Anubis is murdered just as King Janir is finalizing his plans to invade the neighboring kingdom of Mederlana. Meriq is elevated into his father’s position and tasked with seemingly impossible duties: aiding the king in his war against the mysterious Black Legion and its magically armored soldiers; keeping the peace with the kingdom’s intolerant allies; and somehow teaching Jae’nt, the king’s drunken prince royal, how to be a true leader.
The real power of this novel is its thematic depth: underneath the political machinations is the interplay between the liberal Zetarians and their allies, the Morlans, who are raised to believe that sex between men is an insult to God. But the more the soldiers interact, the more the barriers between cultures dissolve. The first installment of The Hand of Justice saga, this shelf-bender of a novel (744 pages) will surely appeal to fantasy fans who enjoy their reading fare ambitious and at times brutal, à la George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
Also available as an ebook.