Author: R. Ramey Guerrero
Release Date: March 25th, 2022
The age of Fire begins in six days.
For fifteen hundred years, Slate and the other rebels have trained students to return Fire’s energy to the city of Wen. All have failed. Only one is left, and Nokhum’s past is less than ideal. If he cannot convince the Council of Elders to allow Fire magic to return, chaos will claim the city. The rebels are determined to avoid that end- even if it means sacrificing his student to chaos’s demons to make the Council believe Fire’s energy is necessary.
Magically talented people are disappearing.
Nokhum is convinced that his life-mate is still alive- no matter what everyone else says. Human slavers who salivate for magical beings have taken her. Realizing the Council of Elders will not help him, he seeks forbidden magics to find her. His plans are derailed when Slate sends him out of the city for training. Will his time in the Whisperwood be his undoing?
Rating: Compelling, awesome characters; fascinating world-building
The First Review (I try not to spoil it here):
Dust of a Moth’s Wing is a very interesting story, with a very interesting, awesome, and unique main character! I loved Nokhum. There is just so much about him that I liked. A lot of it could be done in a very boring way, kind of like when a trope is overdone, but it wasn’t. He is a very real, likable character, marked and changed by his life and experiences, by the loss of his life-mate Kiicatia, his constant search for her, his time in the Holes (the dungeons, basically) and the scars, physical and emotional, that has left on him, including the fact that his friend and cell-mate Ezlii is left there, that his freedom was chosen instead of that. It is very real. But that’s not half of who Nokhum is or all that defines him. Perhaps the scene that best captures a lot of who he is in itself is when he risks himself to call on not-quite-forbidden magic to help some children when a guard is tormenting their pet bunny.
I also really enjoyed Nokhum’s relationship to the Sapling (that’s more or less a tree-spirit), Willow, who took care of him as a child, and to all the wild things and the forest. And the setting of his house, with the root-bridge and all the foliage around is really neat, but that’s an aside. I really liked Willow. Her fondness for him, even protectiveness, and their relationship is so sweet. I also admired Nokhum’s dedication to Kiicatia, that he will never stop looking for her or trying to find a way to her, and never accept what others say – that she is dead.
Is Nokhum perfect? No. He’s been marked by life, he has his flaws. Some of them are just like if someone is not good at, say, arithmatic. Some of them have more to do with character than that. But he is very sympathetic, very good-hearted, a very, very real character who I felt for so much. And I really enjoyed seeing his representation as an ex-prisoner and all that. Too often, people think of prisoners as not people, assume that those who are in or have been in prison are bad or lesser. So I liked seeing Nokhum and his background in this book. It’s not even as if he were a hero who has been thrown in prison by the great villain for defying him, though that is good, too. He’s spent a long time in prison, and what he was doing was not an act of evil, but it wasn’t saving the world or some noble act of defiance either. And however questionable it may or may not have been, Nokhum is a person with a heart and a lot of good in him. A very, very relateable person.
I also really loved Atnu, Nokhum’s partner, who is (ironically enough, given Nokhum’s background) the son of a ranking priestess. He is such a good-hearted boy, who is such a good, good, caring friend to Nokhum, no matter what, no matter that others would not mind him asking to have a different partner. I love how strong his loyalty to Nokhum is, and how he deals with it when the events of the story lead to his beliefs and religion being questioned, and having to choose between Nokhum and his religion. And, just in case it isn’t clear, their friendship is entirely platonic; there is no sexuality or romance involved at all. And that was one of my favourite things about it! (By the way, there is no romance in this book).
It starts with a lot of different Lowasii (the people of the story) together in a secret meeting. It really set the tone for a lot of things, and it was really interesting and awesome to see the dynamics among the Resistence and the different personalities and interests of the rebels. The regret of Slate is very palpable. There was a lot of characters at once however, and though they were presented in a way that makes them real and easy to feel and care for, it was one of the few places in the novel that was a little confusing for me to follow, due to the large number of names.
There are a lot of other things I could mention. The world-building is intricate and deep, but in most places it does not bog the story down at all. In fact, it is usually very, very smooth, like building a coherent background, quite naturally, from the thoughts and observations of the characters, implicit but as clear as necessary to understand what is going on. The descriptions in this book are some of the few I never skimmed on my first read. And there are some really cool, fascinating places and people, particularly Gurglemuck and the inhabitants there, and something else that happens later in the book. Once again, I loved the world-building and the setting and I want to know more, from the otherworldly creatures, the Raen, the Q’rasdiil, to the tribes of the Lowasii.
Something else I really liked about Dust of a Moth’s Wing, if I did not mention it already, is how very much the book covers. One really gets a glimpse into the life of the characters whose perspective one gets, and the Lowasii as a whole. Nothing is skimmed over, and everything is interesting.
And here’s an excerpt that I really thought I’d share here. There is nothing particularly one way or another about it, but it just shows the earthiness and reality of the book. Of Nokhum’s life, Nokhum’s thoughts, Nokhum’s decision-making, Nokhum’s longings, something too deep and fundamental to be told, only shown a million and one times.
Nokhum kicked a stone down the brick road. The words of the fireflyers were still in his mind. Gurglemuck has a teacher. Maybe the Sage would teach him. Or maybe not. It might be an insult to their people for him to even ask.
What would Cat do? When the rock clattered to a stop, he kicked it again. It landed in an overgrowth of weeds. He found a new rock and began his game again. Kiicatia would go. Pressing his lips together, he nodded. Kiicatia loves adventure.
And here’s another snippet that shows how Nokhum thinks. I really like it.
Nokhum’s heart raced. The Protector was going to kill the rabbit in front of those girls. Glancing from side to side, he looked for a distraction. A purse to snatch maybe. Something to pry that man away from the children.
Doesn’t it just breathe the atmosphere of the situation and Nokhum’s thoughts?
I received an Advanced Reader Copy of Dust of a Moth’s Wing in exchange for an honest review.
The Continued Review (Spoilers have been known to appear):
I really can’t predict how many spoilers there are going to be here. It’s hard for me to write my best when I’m even thinking about it.
But I thought the things one discovers at the end, when they are trying to save Nokhum from the scorpion’s sting are very interesting. There are a number very interesting otherworldly spirit beings, and it seems that the situation with the gods and the mess with the Lowasii and their magic and gods (or goddesses) is very complicated. That the conflict between the gods is complicated, and somehow Voshtiki was forced to cast her curse. I thought that was very interesting and had a lot of potential.
And Atnu does not know. He’s just caught between so many things. He thinks he’s being disloyal to his goddess, but I’m not sure that’s really the truth. Who knows if his goddess is worthy of loyalty or not, but it seems she’s not really free either.
I just love Atnu so much.
The Goddess is good to those who are loyal. She guides the paths of her followers. Nearly every day, Atnu visited the temple, and each day, the priestesses consulted the Goddess on his behalf. Every ripple told a story. Every possible action creates a different result. If the Goddess didn’t tell a Lowasii what to avoid and where he should go— then how could anyone thrive? How could anyone survive without knowing? No one could know how the ripples merge. Or what one another may do— without the Goddess to direct their path.
But… if this is the price to save Nokhum then so be it. I don’t see another way.
And the way the places of the otherworlders are described is so good! It’s so smooth and so evocative, with really clear imagery and such a sense of atmosphere!
I just love the relationship between the two of them. This is from Nokhum’s perspective:
Don’t worry, my friend. I’ve turned to stone, I think. Anyway, it finally stopped hurting.
“Slate!” Nothing, save the sounds of faint singing responded, and Atnu flung his hands over his ears and screamed. On his knees, he knelt beside his friend. “Please, anyone… help.”
No one is coming. I’m just a statue in the wood now— you should leave before the Whisperwood claims you too. Nokhum wished he would understand.
But of course, Atnu wouldn’t leave his side.
And here is a reaction from Slate. Adahai is a complex character but I can’t stand her. Treachery like that, heading and arguing for treachery like that, wanting to kill the forest’s own Nez’kali, and the way she does nothing about Nokhum being beaten after he rescues the children’s bunny … arrggh! Slate is sometimes not a whole lot better, as Nokhum is his student and he goes along with Adahai’s plan even if he protests. But then he regrets it. Sometimes, I like Slate.
Slate bent over his student. He could die. Nokhum could die. It would be all my fault. I should have stopped her. This isn’t who we are.
I really liked Xiilena and her orphans – by the Ages, there are so many well-done, interesting characters and stories in this novel – but sometimes it’s hard to find anything really good to say or a good nice quote.
And here’s a last paragraph for you all.
There were no more stories of these benevolent Otherworlders. There was no more magic that came from their Q’rasdiil whispers. There were no more fires in the meadow. So many things changed during his life, but he clung stubbornly to the old ways. Without those old ways, the Lowasii would become just like all the other races. Unremarkable. Slaves to currency and kings— instead of seek-ers of knowledge and protectors of peace. The Elders said these laws were for everyone’s protection, but he had doubts.