Two brothers flee an army of fanatics across a vast and magical desert in this white-knuckle sequel to Master Assassins from Robert V.S. Redick, author of The Red Wolf Conspiracy.
The worst of rivals, the closest of friends, the two most wanted men in a war-torn world: Kandri and Mektu Hinjuman have cheated death so often it’s begun to feel like a way of life. But nothing has prepared them for the danger and enchantment of the Ravenous Lands. This sprawling, lethal desert is the brothers’ last hope, for they have killed the favorite son of Her Radiance the Prophet, and her death-priests and magical servants are hunting them day and night.
But there are dangers even within their caravan. Some of their fellow travelers worship the Prophet in secret. Others, including Mektu, have become obsessed with a bejeweled dagger that seems to afflict its owners with madness or death.
At stake is far more than the lives of two runaway soldiers. Kandri is carrying an encoded cure for the World Plague, a disease that has raged for centuries—while far from the desert, certain criminals have learned just how lucrative a plague can be. Are they using the Prophet, or being used by her? Who, in this game of shadows, can Kandri trust?
He knows one thing, however: they must reach Kasralys, great and beautiful fortress-city of the east. Only there can the precious cure be deciphered. Only there can Kandri seek word of the lover who vanished one night without a trace.
But Kasralys, never conquered in 3,000 years, is about to face its greatest siege in history.
I’m a sucker for the middle book in a series. While sometimes regarded as weaker entries or suffering from ‘middle book syndrome’, I often find them my favorite in a trilogy (although these symptoms can exist). The Well of Ascension, Royal Assassin, The Mad Ship, City of Blades and more are all my favorites in their respective trilogies. Maybe it’s because I’m finally clicking with the characters or I love a great set-up for the final book, I’m not sure. Either way, I always look forward to the second book in a trilogy.
This brings me to Sidewinders by Robert V.S. Redick, the awaited sequel to Master Assassins and continuation of the Fire Sacraments series. I’d heard nothing but great things about this book, and I can confirm, its exceptional.
Back are the brothers two, Kandri and Mektu, and their merry band of travelers. They trek across vast desert spaces and face one peril after another along the way. The story in its most basic form is similar to the first, Kandri and crew have to travel across the desert to the far away city of Kasralys and are being hounded by the evil Prophet’s army. I was worried at first that it would be a retread of what came before it, but Redick constantly has something new and exciting to stumble across in the desert. Consistent twists, turns, and shifting allegiances have you constantly on edge for what is to come next all the way to the finale.
While the book is mostly told from Kandri’s POV again, this time he is joined by a variety of other POV characters each leaving me wanting more. The addition of more POVs fully fleshed out the world that once felt contained. First thing you notice upon opening the book, is that the map is much much larger than it was in Master Assassins. The new POVs give some perspectives from all over the continent including an older war hero who I immediately fell in love with. We also get a glimpse inside the Prophet’s army which gives her some side some needed perspective.
The world building on display was even stronger in this installment than the last with varied locales and constantly inventive elements. The hints at the broader story and world outside of our brothers keep me guessing and wondering. I just want to spend more time in the world. (figuratively of course, Urrath sounds like a horrible place to live)
One of my only minor complaints from the first book was that I didn’t care too much about the characters. That changed in the sequel. In a book with a ton of world building and plot, it can get easy to ignore the importance of characters. Sidewinders though, is ultimately about Kandri and while he may not be my favorite protagonist ever, he is always compelling. His relationship to Mektu and each member of the cast feels real and he is flawed in such a human way. By the book’s end, I was captivated by his story and growth.
There’s also a bunch of new characters that are along for the ride that are each given depth to their characterizations and made me root for them (or despise them depending on the person).
Finally, I couldn’t talk about Sidewinders without mentioning the prose. Every page, every line, every word, is thought out and well placed. The imagery, the subtle flourishes, the language makes you want to pour over each and every sentence. It makes for dense reading compared to some fantasy books – but I enjoyed every second I spent reading it.
Sidewinders is in every way a perfect sequel. It builds on the strengths of the first book while forging its own story and opening up the world to new heights. The set up for the final installment is amazing and I can only hope we don’t have to wait too long. If you have yet to start the Fire Sacraments, I only have one thing to say: GO READ THEM.
p.s. The cover for this book is SO much better than the first. Perfectly encapsulates the tone of the book and is just gorgeous. Oh, and go read these books. Did I say that yet?