Title: Darien [Empire of Salt #1]
Author: C.F. Iggulden
Release Date: 13th July 2017
Reading Time: 7-9 Hours
In the city of Darien, ruled by twelve families desperately clinging to their crumbling power, a plot to murder the King is hatched.
It draws six strangers into to the city – Elias, a hunter with a special knack, Deeds, a man who feels no guilt, Tellius, and old swordsman banished from his home, Arthur, a quiet boy with mysterious origins, Daw, a thief and a gambler, and Nancy, whose talents will be the undoing of them all.
Conn Iggulden’s first foray into Fantasy, Darien tells the tale of a great city, the last remnant of the great Empire of Salt, ruled by a puppet king whose strings are pulled by twelve powerful families. Darien’s downfall begins with a deadly plague, that in turn sets in motion an ambitious plot that will change the lives of six strangers.
What I liked most was the subtle workings of the magic in Darien. The city seems to be caught somewhere between the magical and the mundane, with its magic coming in the form of leftover ‘knacks’ and artifacts, residual echos of the great power that flowed through the Empire of Salt. You might come across someone with a knack to glimpse a minute or two into the future, or a knife that can cut through literally anything, but any real power is practically a myth, as far as the inhabitants are concerned. This made for a nice change to the usually complex magic systems found in Fantasy.
It took me a while to warm up to the lead characters, as none of the six really interested me that much, but I did enjoy the interactions between Daw and Nancy as they went on, while Arthur and his mysterious origins kept me reading once he showed up. Deeds grated on me quite a lot, and I would have skimmed his parts if he hadn’t been paired with Elias through most of the novel. I wasn’t a fan of the ‘jumping around from character to character part way through chapters’ writing style either, but I will say that might have been because of the formatting of the arc, which squished everything together, and it might look less confusing on print.
Iggulden’s experience at creating past societies for his Historical Fiction has served him well, as the world of Darien has been crafted brilliantly. While we learn only specific details about the old Empire, the city, and it’s twelve families, the information doesn’t feel sketchy or thin. Darien and its history felt pretty solid to me, even though I’m not aware of it all. I found out what I need to know, without being bogged down with superfluous details. Iggulden doesn’t need to spill every bean for me to know he’s done his homework.
The pacing was interesting… The first half moves along at a steady, slow pace, culminating rather quickly in an excellent, climactic showdown, at about 60% of the novel, and then slows right back down again, moving towards a conclusion that feels more like a whimper than a bang. I kept waiting for a big ‘something’ or other to come along, but nothing really did, which felt strange. I can’t say I didn’t like it, though. By placing his ‘finale worthy’ moments somewhere in the middle, Iggulden has the opportunity to play out the fallout, and tie up loose ends whilst simultaneously setting up the next installment. It gave me a certain closure I don’t usually get with series.
Fantasy lovers will find Darien an entertaining read, and fans of Iggulden’s Historical Fiction work will also enjoy it too. The conclusion is strong enough to stand alone, if a series commitment isn’t for you, but I will be looking forward to seeing what the next installment will bring.
TLDR.: A Fantasy debut by a Historical Fiction Author that will please readers looking for novels with strong world building and no-nonsense magic.
*I received this ARC free from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review*