Darien #1 Empire of Salt by C F Iggulden

darienDarien is an impressive start to a series that looks set to become epic.  I had a few niggles but overall I really enjoyed this and look forward to reading more from this world.

Unsurprisingly the majority of the story is set in the city of Darien. Darien is a huge city, it has a monarch but he’s little more than a figurehead, the real rulers of the city being the 12 noble families who keep peace with the threat of their own collection of magical artefacts that are rolled out during troubled times.  Not to mention obscene amounts of money  that can buy their own personal armies.

As we start the story we are introduced to a number of characters who eventually pair up and follow their own storylines which eventually converge.  We have a hunter named Elias, he’s desperately seeking a cure for his wife and and daughters who have fallen victim to the plague, his actions have become desperate and his lack of caution brings him to the notice of an ambitious gunman called Vic Deeds.  The two of them make an agreement to travel together, one with the promise of a cure, the other with ulterior motives that make him appear as less than trustworthy.  We have a sneaky thief called Nancy and her latest potential victim Daw.  Again, the two of them strike a deal that sees them seeking out an ancient monument in search of treasure.   Finally we have a character called Tellius who runs a gang of street urchins. Tellius is a very clever individual, not originally from Darien, he teaches his boys to dance, except what they believe to be a form of dance is actually a combination of routines that feel like martial arts.  Tellius is about to be introduced to his latest recruit, a young boy called Arthur who hides a huge secret.

There are a number of different motivations at play here.  Elias wants little more than a quiet life and to keep his family safe.  He has something, referred to in Darien, as the knack.  This differs from individual to individual but lends Elias an ability of stealth and foresight that makes him quite lethal.  Nancy’s story is all about revenge, she also has a knack that makes her very interesting to certain people.  Arthur is really in search of home.  He is much more than a little boy though and although he forms strong attachments to those who show him kindness his abilities will also bring him to the attention of those who would use and manipulate him.  On top of this we have a huge army situated outside the city, an army run by a ruthless general who has his own ideas of what is best.

Darien is really a character led story and given the size of the book manages to fit a heck of a lot into what is really relatively few pages in terms of epic fantasy.  I enjoyed the style of writing. I think the author does an excellent job of keeping the different POVs distinct and I had no trouble keeping track of them.  The plot comes together in a very satisfying way.  The author manages to converge the storyline in a way that makes us see the plot unfold from different angles which I particularly enjoyed.

In terms of my niggles.

Nothing that spoiled the read for me but random thoughts that popped up as I read.  There is very little history about Darien and although there are twelve noble families we don’t meet them all here.  Personally, I think Iggulden has the right idea by not introducing everyone at this point. We only meet with those nobles that play a role in the story and this helps to keep the story succinct and prevents the need for history lessons (although I would have liked a little bit more information on, for example the Sallets).

The magic is not really touched upon, more it’s just there unquestioned.  There are magical objects and mages and witches, it’s not really made clear why or how the knack manifests in some and not others.  To be honest I don’t really mind this but, again, I think a little bit of history would have been useful.

I think my real concern is that I did want to have a stronger attachment to the characters.  By the end of the story I definitely had favourites but it felt like it took a little while to get there, just as though they were a little flat or lacked that certain something that immediately draws you to them.  Like I said, this changed as I reached the conclusion where I definitely found myself caring about the fate of a few of the characters, particularly Arthur and Tellius.

Overall I think this was a really good read.  It reads as a self contained story but with obvious openings left for the next in series to pick up on,  I’m really keen to find out more about certain characters and I’m particularly curious about Elias, and his daughters, and wonder whether they might play more of a role in the future.  I think the main issue with this book is that the author was obviously trying to prevent the story from becoming bloated with information which can lead to the story becoming lost a little.  As it is, I think this could easily have had another 100 or so pages without becoming bogged down.  At the end of the day though the beauty of a series is the way that the characters and world are expanded upon with each successive book.

I think this has the promise to become a great series, almost old school in terms of the style of writing, not overly brutal or dark and with some great battle scenes to boot.  I look forward to discovering more.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

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7 Responses to “Darien #1 Empire of Salt by C F Iggulden”

  1. Tammy

    I’ve never heard of this, but that cover is pulling me in:-) Thanks for sharing!

    • @lynnsbooks

      The author usually writes historical fiction so this is his debut into the fantasy world. I enjoyed it and thought it was a good first in series.
      Lynn 😄

  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    This author sounds like a wise person: he managed to keep a tight leash on his desire to show more to his readers (it does happen with debut novels, and sometimes it gets out of hand…) and in so doing he built interest and curiosity that will bring readers to his next installment. From your review it appears that you were almost caught by surprise by the way you ended up caring for the characters, even though they looked a little flat at first: it’s great when you suddenly find yourself invested in a story and in its characters when you least expected it… 😉
    Great review, thanks for sharing!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, the author has managed to leave plenty to explore in future books which I like and I’ve definitely grown attached now to some of the characters so will definitely continue.
      Lynn 😄

  3. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I have not heard of this one before, is it a debut? Beginnings can be tricky, I have definitely experienced some of the same downsides in several of my series starters in the past few months, but I imagine world, characters, and story will develop more in time. I like that this sounds like a more traditional, down to earth epic fantasy!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Definitely more of a traditional feeling book without all the grim dark elements. Well, there are battles and fire and death but it doesn’t read quite as brutal as some of my most recent reads and so was a welcome change. The offer is Conn Iggulden. He is well known for writing historical novels. This is a debut in terms of fantasy and definitely one that I’d like to continue. I like that he was keeping the novel to a reasonable size although I think it could have been expanded (he was clearly trying to keep the pace fast though). There’s a lot yet left to explore and even though I didn’t immediately live the characters I did form attachments by the end of the story.

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