Today I am belatedly joining the Escapists Tours blog tour for The Moon’s Eye by A.J. Calvin, the first book in The Relics of War series.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
Chosen for advanced training by the god of war himself, Vardak is considered a paragon amongst his people, the Scorpion Men. Yet his position and training come with a cost: He must serve the whims of the god, with no questions asked. Only days after his training is complete, he is sent far away from his desert homeland in order to act as the protector of the Fire Maiden’s mortal daughter, Janna.
Janna has been tasked with the recovery of a magical relic known as The Moon’s Eye, but she has little worldly experience to guide her. The Immortals deem the relic’s recovery imperative, for it alone can combat the rise of the Soulless—those sworn to the fallen, nameless god of death. The Soulless are ruthless and powerful, and eager to wage war upon the land in order to appease the god they serve.
Though Vardak is skilled in battle, he must lead Janna through several perilous areas in order to reach the relic she seeks, pushing his abilities to the limit. Unbeknownst to the pair, the Soulless raise an army and begin their conquest, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Will they secure The Moon’s Eye before all is lost, or will the relic itself prove to be their undoing?
I was drawn to The Moon’s Eye because it looked and sounded like a classic epic fantasy, and it certainly lived up to that with the scope of the worldbuilding and the quest that was the heart of this story. I will say that the cover and story do lean very much into the themes, and some of the tropes that you would expect from this kind of story, but that does not make it a predictable read, and there so many original elements that this was a really fun, refreshing take on a classic mould.
As always there is a bonus point for the map!
The worldbuilding was solid and multi-layered, and absolutely my favourite part of the book. I am always a fan of stories that have Gods being directly involved in the world, and here we have multiple gods intervening and moving mortals as pawns according to their own purposes, some nefarious, some selfish, and never really asking permission. I liked the feeling that Calvin gave to her gods, because they felt different to the various races and characters, regardless of their powers or status, and there was a fantastic otherworldly, more-than-human feel to them.
Then there was the world itself. This was very much a journey story, and it is through that quest that we get to see so much of the world unfold – one of my favourite ways to have a world develop, and Calvin has some truly spectacular descriptions to bring the setting alive and we explore it organically with the characters. The Five Kingdoms are home to a rich variety of races and cultures, and Calvin deftly weaves together political intrigue, different beliefs, different gods and their apostles stirring the pot, to a real sense of history (and future, with the goals of some of the sides) to create a rich, complex world that felt both very much alive but also as though it was on the edge and directly involved with the unfolding plot. The Scorpion Men were one of my favourite groups, but I was also fascinated by the Murkor and the Soulless – and honestly Calvin just ticked so many worldbuilding boxes for me.
I’ve been on a kick rewatching The Mummy series in the last week or so, and I immediately flashed to that when reading about the Scorpion Men (half-humanoid/half-scorpion). That may have influenced my favourite character – Vardak. He had a slight element of ‘chosen one’ in that he had been chosen by his patron god Blademon to be his apprentice, but he doesn’t fall into that trope, and I liked him as a protagonist as he was a good balance of quiet and pragmatic (in the way of his people), but also personality, and I liked that even with that ‘chosen’ element he was striving to improve his skills. And it was an interesting dynamic, having him with Janna, who had been given the quest, but rather than being chosen was god-born. I didn’t connect with her as much, but I did like their pairing on the journey, and she certainly grew on me as the story proceeded. Another favourite was Aran’daj, and I also found myself really enjoying the thread that had Dranamir. I will say that there are a lot of characters to keep track of here (fitting for an epic fantasy).
Calvin’s writing really brought this story to life on so many levels, and the action and pacing made this book a quick, enjoyable read that was a lot of fun. It really did feel like I had dived into a classic epic fantasy, and I have already added the other books in this series to my TBR, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one to anyone who wants to experience that feeling!
A.J. Calvin is a science fiction/fantasy novelist from Loveland, Colorado. By day, she works as a microbiologist, but in her free time she writes. She lives with her husband, their cat, Magic, and a fairly large salt water aquarium.
When she is not working or writing, she enjoys scuba diving, hiking, and playing video games.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.