Title: The Empyrean Key
Author: J.L. Tomlinson
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Goodreads Summary:In Ardentia, a land carved by the Celestials and their magic, a great King lies dying.
Narcean soothsayer, Friziel Sunrender, has foreseen a shadow that threatens this already war-torn world, and whispers on the wind hint at the return of an ancient evil. To stave off this threat, he must call upon the halfbreed girl-child he banished years ago.
As a not-so-perceptive telepath and amateur scam-runner, Jahna Mornglow has filled the void left by an absent father, with the friendships of a bloodthirsty bar-maid and a bullied book-worm. Her mother, scarred by the racial prejudices of her past, refuses to nurture Jahna's Narcean abilities of prophecy and telepathy, warning her of the hate beyond the safety of Groden Cove – a beachside safe haven for misfits and those who wish to be left alone.
When hidden enemies move their pieces into play as the King's condition worsens; Jahna learns the true extent of her lineage, and is tasked with restoring a Celestial artifact known as The Empyrean Key. Jahna must now keep safe the world that has shunned and discarded her.
First of all, thank you to Jo-Anne Tomlinson for her patience with me reviewing her book, It's taken me months but I finally did it!
I was really excited about this book because I've been trying to make it a point to read and support authors and books that feature diverse characters. I know that authors are getting better about including more diverse minor characters, but it's still rare for the main character to be a person of color. In The Empyrean Key, the main character is markedly dark skinned and faces some discrimination for it. I was also hooked by the roguish main characters, who con people for a living and crack jokes to deal with their meager existence (sound familiar, Gentleman Bastard fans?).
I can definitely say I enjoyed this book, and it was a fairly quick and entertaining read. The witty banter and the sarcasm was great, and I liked the unconventional main characters. Jahna is from a race of seers or prophets, but she doesn't know how to use her powers. Her best friends and partners in crime are Lilac, a large and brawny barmaid, and Silko, a scrawny bookworm. The three of them have a wonderful friendship, and it was endearing to see how despite all the bravado and teasing, they had each other's backs no matter what.
I did have a few minor complaints with this book (hence 3.5 stars). As I mentioned before, I was really excited to see how the author dealt with the issue of race and prejudice against her main character. While Jahna was discriminated against, it was more out of fear of her prophetic abilities; her race was almost a non-issue. I also expected a bit more depth in the three main characters. I felt like they were quirky and unique, but after a while there wasn't actually that much more to them. This book felt like the first few hundred pages of a giant epic fantasy novel, so perhaps the characters have a lot more growing to do, but they still felt a little flat in the second half of the book. And finally, the lukewarm romance that came out of nowhere. Jahna was suddenly blushing and thinking about a character who only made his appearance very late in the novel, and the whole thing seemed abrupt to me.
While I do have some reservations about this book, I definitely enjoyed it. I am looking forward to more of Tomlinson's work.
*A free copy was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review*