The Amber Crown – Jacey Bedford

A standalone epic fantasy that hits familiar beats in interesting ways with a strong cast that earns their bonds and uses the familiar as a bedrock to add surprises along with a keen eye for detail. 

Many thanks to Stephanie at DAW for sending me an eARC, all opinions are my own.

RELEASE DATE: 11/01/2022

STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶

SUMMARY: The king is dead, his queen is missing. On the amber coast, the usurper king is driving Zavonia to the brink of war. A dangerous magical power is rising up in Biela Miasto, and the only people who can set things right are a failed bodyguard, a Landstrider witch, and the assassin who set off the whole sorry chain of events.

Valdas, Captain of the High Guard, has not only failed in his duty to protect the king, but he’s been accused of the murder, and he’s on the run. He’s sworn to seek justice, but his king sets him another task from beyond the grave. Valdas doesn’t believe in magic, which is unfortunate as it turns out.

Mirza is the healer-witch of a Landstrider band, valued and feared in equal measure for her witchmark, her scolding tongue, and her ability to walk the spirit world. When she’s given a task by Valdas’ dead king, she believes that the journey she must take is one she can never return from.

Lind is the clever assassin. Yes, someone paid him to kill the king, but who is to blame, the weapon or the power behind it? Lind must face his traumatic past if he’s to have a future.

Can these three discover the real villain, find the queen, and set the rightful king on the throne before the country is overcome?

OPINIONS: The Amber Crown is a stand-alone with many of the trappings of epic fantasy squeezed into a single story. Set in a Central-European-inspired country, the story draws more from the late Renaissance with traders, merchants, a semi-prosperous middle class, and guns, rather than the typical medieval. The plot itself is very traditional with a group going on a quest, an uncertain power vacuum, and an unseen evil lurking underneath it all. While this sounds the same old, same old, the familiarity allows the differences to become more apparent and it’s the characters that make it, as well as a solid execution. It’s important to note that whilst the world is not grimdark, there are mentions of sexual assault, a scene of attempted rape, and a flashback to the rape of an adolescent. They’re addressed within the story and aren’t just used as set dressing or to set a tone but readers may want to approach with caution.

Valdas is the most straightforward of the three POV characters. He’s loyal, honest, and willing to accept responsibility. However, he’s also a bit crude and loves women although he knows how to accept boundaries.  He’s also the one that I feel changes the least through the story. He already knows himself and mostly what kind of person he is so doesn’t go through the path of growth the other two do, although through his experiences he becomes more open-minded and tolerant of others.  

While I liked Mirza with her pragmatism, sharpness but also a strong sense of fairness and compassion she does get the raw end of the deal a lot of the time. At the beginning of the story, she has to fight for the respect of her band, having recently been an apprentice who had outpaced her master but was forced to hide it.  As she continues to show her abilities to her band and later convinces Valdas of the existence of magic, her willingness to do what’s right overall despite the hardship it might cause her becomes a defining trait. 

Lind is the most complex of the three and the most morally ambivalent. Through the story, we see his cleverness and his quickness but also Lind’s experiences as an assassin for hire are grounded more in detail than usual with descriptions of disguises and methodicalness of planning required rather than violence and a quick getaway.  All three have very distinct voices and the bonds between each of the characters are slowly developed and earned rather than forged in an instant through peril.   

In terms of writing the short chapters maintain the pace of the book and help to keep momentum between the characters, particularly in the earlier parts. Each POV feels very different so it’s enjoyable to switch between them. There are also interesting bits of worldbuilding such as Lind’s mention of changing fashion adds a sense of vibrancy and of living culture rather than things being set in stone. The poor judgment of the new king is also mentioned through the references to new taxes in subtle asides. The Amber Crown would be a good fit for people who love epic fantasy but aren’t ready to commit to a long-running series.

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