Every Sky a Grave by Jay Posey
Jay Posey's Legend of the Duskwalker series was a personal favourite. Even though I personally thought the first book trumped books two and three, Duskwalker was a great platform to establish Jay in genre fiction. A dystopian post-apocalyptic setting, enigmatic heroes, well-etched characters and kinetic action sequences.
So when Every Sky a Grave was announced - ( with similarities to Mark Lawrence, for fans of Ann Leckie and Star Wars! Ha ha clever marketing there, eh.) and the wonderfully kind folks at Harper sent me an ARC, I was thrilled.
I was dropped right into the middle of an action scene ( And we know Jay writes some phenomenally explosive sequences, maybe perhaps his experience in writing for the gaming industry!) - and that formed my first impressions of Elyth, a warrior-monk in the ways of the Deep Language, Advocate of the Voice and loyal to this organisation called The First House. I know, this was a bit overwhelming and I felt the same way. We are thrust into an inter-galactic conflict of sorts between two power-houses - The First House ( a feminist org, blessed with the magical powers that originate from their mastery of this arcane language, the Deep Language, wielding power over not just people but physical aspects of the various planets) and Hezra, a technology-focused organisation that has been trying for centuries to breach the outer edges of the known galaxy and fare beyond.
Elyth, is our sole POV throughout the book. A smart, thoughtful conscientious young woman who is equally adept at holding standstill yogic poses and cycling through a million thoughts, rock steady or infiltrating behind enemy lines in a frenetic burst of speed and action. As we meet her first, she is using her knowledge of the Deep Language to accelerate a whole planet's entropy speeding its implosion and demise. Because she has been instructed to do so, by her Order. And post this, she is plucked halfway out of her recovery, to be sent to another rogue planet Qel, which the First House suspects has been corrupted beyond repair and Elyth is supposed to make her judgement based on the time spent on Qel and eventually destroy the planet.
But the folks she encounters on Qel makes Elyth question her own beliefs. Because this is a planet that is flourishing, with people who care deeply for their forest reserves and then Elyth meets this enigmatic puzzle-box of a man the folks call Eth Ammuin who is charming and dangerous at the same time and thwarts all attempts by Elyth to understand him. And then, Elyth discovers to her horror that while this planet may be an aberration, a sore thumb sticking out under the First House's watchful eye that wants to 'subdue' the whole galaxy under their care and governance, there are truths that Elyth has been ignorant about - wrapped up in the conditioning that she has been subjected to, her whole life.
This is the central conflict presented in the book, where Jay brings together an almost impossible mix of thoughtful meditation on aspects of power, language and freedom and also cinematic big action sequences like daring prison escapes, large-scale natural catastrophes and fluid hand-to-hand combat scenes. Frankly, I wanted to like this book a lot more but the going was tough. Despite Elyth's fairly unique personality - her physical abilities to take on pain, her grit and courage in the face of surmounting odds is at cross-roads with her need for 'inner peace', her relentless questioning of the world around her and everything that has been taught to her - I just couldn't get behind her or like her. While this first book, an ambitious series starter is predominantly about her character going through a full arc of change and discovery of hidden truths and potential, Jay's choice of narrative flow is of the slow meandering manner. We take our time, going from the power-centre of the Ascendance's First House to the planet Mel - and then going from point A to point B while she is escaping capture, simultaneously capturing planet data and getting all the more confused
There are very few secondary characters in the book of importance - chiefly Elyth's mentor, the lady known as the Paragon who is the most powerful 'Speaker' at the First House and then there is the enigmatic Eth Ammuin. While the Paragon is perhaps like the Oldest Jedi of the Order, her portrayal didn't expose her motivations and her background. Perhaps Jay will dwell more on the the larger gamble of a power-struggle show-down between the Hezra and the First House in his later books and am sure, the Paragon will have a larger role to play there. Coming to Eth Ammuin, I wouldn't want to spoil the suspense - but I truly enjoyed his character a lot and look forward to a lot more of Elyth-Eth Ammuin partnerships.
The pacing is a drag, but perhaps that was a conscious decision from Jay. Because once the conflict takes a physical shape in that last 20% of the book, the narrative took wings. But apart from these glitches, I think Every Sky a Grave is an ambitious series starter and has a lot to offer, going forward. It is certainly a slower than usual Jay Posey book - more cerebral, if I may use that word. The poses that Advocates use while training, almost reminds me of Yoga. But anyways, deep deliberations on the role of self in this vast galaxy, reflections on misuse of power and authority - mixed with absolutely entertaining action makes for a runaway series starter and I can't now wait to watch Elyth and her companions take this fight to the galaxy and beyond. Recommended.