I was kindly sent a free copy of this book by the author Darrell Drake for a review. ‘A Star-Reckoner’s Lot’ is an interesting and dark historical fantasy. Here is my review:
Trained to be a star-reckoner from childhood Ashtadukht isn’t very good at it. Tasked with finding and destroying evil divs using her powers, while dealing with a debilitating illness and the grief of losing her husband, how long can Ashtadukht hold it together and what will happen if it consumes her?
A Star-Recokner’s Lot is a very different novel, unlike any I’ve read before. Advertised as a historical fantasy the events take place in ancient Sasanian Iran. This time period is one that fascinates me as I haven’t come across many books that delve into this area, however although this is marketed as historical fantasy, I’d say this is more a fantasy book.
The story begins with a brief chapter showing how Ashtadukht became a star-reckoner and then follows her and her travelling companion Tirdad who soon meet up with the third main character of the book Waray. The first half of the book is focused on the different adventures that the three go on. Unfortunately while these adventures are very interesting to read and have some gripping moments, especially one featuring birds and a statue, it didn’t feel like there was any main plot direction and it felt more like a collection of random stories. As the story progresses into the second half you learn more about Ashtadukht and what happened in her past. This is where I started to feel more engaged with the book. You learn more about the characters and there is a dramatic revelation.
I enjoyed the characters and they are well developed with Waray being a favourite of mine. Her strange speech and interest in eating a certain thing really made her an appealing character and I enjoyed any exchanges with her. Ashtadukht’s character is one that I initially liked. It was interesting to have a character with a debilitating illness and made you connect with her and feel for her as she struggled to do her star-reckoning. However as the story progressed into the second half I began to dislike her and what happened. The ending of the book is good but I’m not sure I like it. I’m all for different endings in books but this one felt short and left me feeling a bit empty. I would have preferred another chapter or a longer one at the end to really finish the book off better (but that’s just me).
I like the fact this book is set in Iran and not in the same fantasy setting that so many books are. Being a fantasy book this was more focused on myths and legends rather than the historical setting. Though the characters travel through different locations within ancient Iran, the action and descriptions are focused on the different types of divs and strange occurrences. The different adventures Ashtadukht and her company go through are actually quite exciting and very different from things I’ve read in other fantasy adventure novels. As I said I really liked the adventure featuring birds (it’s not at all what you could imagine) and an adventure where they meet a King is certainly exciting and starts up the second half of the book well. I actually got into these adventures and only found it hard to read when chapters transitioned from one to the other. Each chapter features one adventure and a lot of time, months or sometimes even years, pass between the chapters (though this isn’t quite clear when reading).
The book will be a tough read for many. Drake’s writing is very eloquent and reminds me of the type of language used in many classic novels. This doesn’t bother me as I enjoy classics but some readers might not enjoy it and it does make the book read slower than it should, with many over-descriptive passages. Some of these descriptions are really good and go a long way to creating the dark setting and I felt more engaged with this style of writing the further I read into this book.
There is swearing in this book, uses of the s and f word aren’t there too often but begin about half way through the book. There is also old fashioned style swearing which didn’t shock as much being made up but it felt strange having both old fashioned and modern swearing together. There is also some sex and drug use in this book. The sex scenes are a little detailed and do go on for a bit and some fantasy fans might not enjoy these so much. Given the various things that are in this book I’d say this is a book for a more adult audience.
Overall I do like this book. The setting and story is unique, I love the character of Waray and the interactions between all three. The descriptions are dark and at times you feel really engaged and even chilled by some of the creatures and situations. While I have my criticisms I’d still recommend this book, especially due to being set in ancient Iran. It’s a worthwhile read not only for its setting but will also appeal to any fantasy adventure readers.
For some, loss merely deprives. For others, it consumes.
Ashtadukht is a star-reckoner. The worst there’s ever been. Witness her treacherous journey through Iranian legends and ancient history.
Only a brave few storytellers still relate cautionary glimpses into the life of Ashtadukht, a woman who commanded the might of the constellations–if only just, and often unpredictably. They’ll stir the imagination with tales of her path to retribution. How, fraught with bereavement and a dogged illness, she criss-crossed Sassanian Iran in pursuit of creatures now believed mythical. Then, in hushed tones, what she wrought on that path.