The first book in the Devices of War series.
Publication year: 2013
This book is part of the steampunk bundle I bought last year. However, it doesn’t have much steampunk in it. There’s some technology and a couple of the characters are inventors but I don’t think they use steam tech much. Some of the tech is very interesting and innovative, though. It’s written in first person from Synn’s POV.
In this world, the House of Tarot and their four Queens rule most of the world and they want to conquer the rest of it by subjugating the Great Families who are still fighting back. The Queen of the House of Wands, Nix, is a beautiful and ruthless woman who uses her beauty as a weapon. She also doesn’t hesitate to execute even children if it furthers her goals. She also wants to control as many people with Marks as possible. Marks resemble tattoos but they give their bearers fantastic powers. The powers correspond to the Family or House of the bearer. The Marks appear on children or teens who go through ordeals so Nix’s tactic is to subject some people to terrible things in order for the Marks to appear.
17-year-old Synn El’Aurim is one of the children born to parents whose marriage joined two power-ful Great Families. The Mark of the El’Aurim gives them power of storms and the Mark of the Ino family controls fire. The El’Aurim family lives aboard airships and ride the currents. The Ino family lives on living ships, the letharan which swim in the oceans.
Synn is the only one of the children who doesn’t have a Mark. He feels like he has let down his family and his mother barely tolerates to look at him. But Synn is mostly in the company of his fa-ther and thinks of their airship as his home. He doesn’t even know much about his mother’s people.
Then Queen Nix’s minions, called the Hands, attack. They’ve already destroyed one Family’s leth-ara. The El’Aurim airships try to lure them away from the Ino family. But in the process the airship where Synn and his father are, is captured. Queen Nix is aboard the Hand ship. To Synn’s horror, Nix orders Synn’s father burned for attempted rebellion. Synn tries to help his father but instead, he’s also strapped to a pyre. But Synn doesn’t burn; instead his Mark manifests itself. Unfortunate-ly, a powerful Mark makes him also a powerful tool which Queen Nix wants for herself.
Synn is tortured for what feels like a very long time to him. The Queen uses all sorts of methods, starting with starving and beatings, and when they don’t work she also uses sexual torture. She takes Synn to the legendary Sky City which is a literal flying city. She wants Synn to want to be-long to her but he refuses. Synn is very interested in the sciences so Nix lets him attend the local university, called the Librarium, but only on the condition that he does exactly as she orders. There he manages to befriend a couple of people – and they might even help him escape. But even if they can escape, Nix has no intention of letting Synn go.
This was a pretty fast read and Synn grows a lot during the story; he’s quite immature at the start. It was also a lot darker than I expected; the torture is pretty gruesome even though it isn’t terribly graphic. After the torture, Nix has a mental link to Synn and he has to constantly struggle against it. We’re also introduced to Varik who was Nix’s previous victim. Varik is totally devoted to Nix and constantly reminds Synn that he will belong to her.
The world building is fascinating and very detailed. At the beginning there’s a short chapter detail-ing the history of the planet but after that, the author doesn’t explain much.
Synn has a circle of friends whom he can rely on: Joshua who is also a young inventor, Joshua’s gen-tle sister Keeley, and Synn’s old friend Haji. Sometimes they argue but most of the times they watch out for each other. Joshua and Keeley lost their families because Queen Nix burned them before the siblings’ eyes when they were just children. The only reason they are still alive is because they mani-fested Marks which Nix has a use for.
Queen Nix is a ruthless and conniving woman. She burns people alive and kidnaps children. She justifies it saying that she wants to keep her House safe but she clearly also enjoys torture.
The Marks reminded me very much of super powers. Synn is even taught to use his Mark in a way that very much brought to mind young superheroes training. At first each Mark seemed to have just one way to use it, but thankfully the characters started to use them in more versatile way. I very much enjoyed the Marks and Synn’s circle of friends.
There were a couple of time jumps where the author just glossed over what had happened during a couple of months. Also, the chapter headings give too much away IMHO.
The book ends in a cliffhanger.