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Reviewed by Eduardo Aduna for Readers' Favorite
The sea is awash with blood. The Merwin Queen is dead and the Houses of Mervidia are in a frenzy over who should claim the Fangs. Tradition holds that the next ruler should be of divine lineage, a member of a dwindling line of seers. Others, however, see the Queen's death as an opportunity to put forth their own champions and shape Mervidia's future according to their own desires. In a land where murder and treachery is the rule rather than the exception and where House pride comes before the future of the land, will tradition hold and the status quo remain or will change occur that could very well shatter the basic foundations of Mervidia's culture? Life has no protagonists and the greater good is usually just one person's version of what things ought to be. This perfectly sums up the brutal, beautifully crafted world that is Mervidia.
Having read and loved the Barbers' Chronicles of Aronshae, I had very high expectations for Mervidia. Those lofty expectations were, quite simply put, shattered by the pure brilliance of this novel. I have no trouble placing this book among the top ten fantasy works of 2014. Mervidia isn't your average fantasy realm. There are no wizards or stable boys who grow up to be kings. We have instead Merwins with prominently piscine heritages that would make anyone interested in marine biology read the book with a self-satisfied smirk. That in itself is a hard feat to pull off. To create a world without human beings, populated by the most stereotypically abused of all fantasy races and to create such a detailed, immersive piece of pure world building is writing at its very best. This book can do for aquatic fantasy races what Tolkien did for elves.
The Barbers' penchant for creating multifaceted characters and crafting complex situations for them to act in is unparalleled. Indeed the complexity of each character is what makes the heart-stopping twists in the novel all the more effective. One particular thing I have noted with the Barbers is that they have a way of capturing that specific fascinating aspect of violence and gore. Fight scenes, both mundane and magical, are all examples of clear and efficient writing. The reader is supplied with the words their imagination needs to play out the scene exactly as the authors envisioned it. Mervidia is not for the faint of heart. It is long, detailed, brutal and jarring. It is also a masterpiece, the type of work that defines fantasy authors and cements them in the annals of the genre. Everyone tired of reading about the same old wizard and the same old boy doing the same old things would do well to immerse themselves in Mervidia and see what the fantasy genre truly means.