Kamet’s fate is tied to that of his owner, Nahuseresh. For much of his life, his owner’s power and prosperity have served Kamet well. He is educated, owns a handful of possessions, and enjoys considerable power as his owner’s public voice. Of late, however, Nahuseresh has suffered setback after setback. All thanks to Eugenides, former Thief of Eddis turned King of Attolia. Nahuseresh’s setbacks are Kamet’s as well.
Even so, Eugenides’ offer, relayed by his intermediary Costis, of sanctuary and freedom from his master is laughable. Why would Kamet give up all he has for life in a backward, foreign land filled with illiterate barbarians?
Escaping death is a good reason.
Kamet listens horrified as a fellow slave warns him that Nahuseresh has been poisoned. The identity of the killer is clear to Kamet: Nahuseresh has been murdered by his own brother, on the orders of the Mede emperor. Nahuseresh’s slaves will be blamed for the crime. At the very least, they can expect to be executed as a warning to other slaves. At worst, they may be praying for death by the time it comes.
Rather than find out whether the Empire will settle for a quick death or a long tortured one, Kamet flees the palace immediately. This buys him only a little time. Long-term survival requires escape from the empire. To do that, Kamet needs assistance from Costis, who had earlier offered him sanctuary with Eugenides. But Kamet cannot tell Costis why he has changed his mind. No reasonable man would risk the imperial fury that will soon descend on Kamet and anyone foolish enough to help him. Without Costis, Kamet is doomed. Therefore the fugitive must conceal his real reasons from a man he is swiftly coming to like and respect. Which is both dishonourable and dangerous.
Although this book is part of a series, it functions as a standalone. Readers do not need to have read previous books before reading this one.
Following the pattern set in The King of Attolia and followed in A Conspiracy of Kings, Eugenides has been relegated to a supporting role, a largely (but not entirely) offstage puppet-master. Instead, the protagonist is someone from an entirely different realm and an alien culture. Someone shaped by that culture; Kamet may be fleeing the Mede Empire, but he still accepts its ways as natural and good.
As we follow the flight of Costis and Kamet towards freedom, we learn more about what the Empire looks like from the bottom of the social pyramid. Kamet may be a slave, subject to beatings or death at the whim of his master, but his life is far better than those of the poorest of the poor. He is, at least, not a slave in a salt mine. His power is reflected power but it is genuine power.
This is a worthy entry into the series, one that leaves ample room for more books to follow. My only regret is that Turner appears to be a slow and meticulous writer: five books in the series, appearing over the course of twenty-one years. It has been seven years since the previous book in the series! Why can’t I have immediate gratification?
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