Author: Anna Stephens
Originally Published in 2020
Review by Miriam Atkinson
The Stone Knife is the first book in Anna Stephens’ The Songs of the Drowned high fantasy series.
The continent of Ixachipan has been at war with itself for many years. The nation of Pechacan with its shining capital, the Singing City, is determined to create a new Empire of Songs with all nations under their control. Now only two nations remain free of the Empire. As Tokoban struggles to support refugees from the vulnerable Yalotlan its population must also combat the constant threat from the monstrous, water-dwelling, Drowned. Meanwhile in the Singing City key players must navigate deadly political games as the Empire prepares for one final war and total victory.
With such a large map of countries, Anna Stephens provides her readers with a variety of viewpoints. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character and each character deliberately has a different background and role from the others. These include: a shaman, a warrior, a general, a spy, a politician, and an eja (a special warrior who protects the water supply and fights the Drowned). This variety gives the reader a lot of insight into the Mayan/Aztec-inspired fantasy world Stephens has created.
My favourite characters are Xessa, a Tokoban eja, and Enet – one of the highest ranking advisors in the Empire. These two female characters are very different from each other and are positioned on opposites sides of the conflict.
Born deaf, the younger Xessa is ideal for the role of eja as she cannot hear the siren-like songs of the Drowned. I was pleased that throughout the novel Stephens chose to portray Xessa’s disability as a strength and she is every bit the skilled fighter and strategist as those characters with hearing. Kind and caring, Xessa is a very positive character and a smart introduction for readers into this world. Xessa is also the character who interacted most with the Drowned; a group of creatures I was fascinated to learn more about.
In contrast Enet is scheming, self-centred, and manipulative. Enet is one of the primary antagonists of the story yet she proves that well-written villains can make for fascinating characters. Despite being in a position of power sometimes Enet is on top and other times she miscalculates and risks death or exile if she cannot think her way out of situations. This constant danger gave an interesting unpredictable nature to her chapters. It is also through Enet’s chapters that we get the best view of the Singing City – a location completely different to anywhere else in the novel.
At 593 pages The Stone Knife is an intimidating read when you first pick it up. Due to the size and changing character perspectives I was initially unsure if I would be able to properly get into this story – but I’m glad I stuck with it. For any new readers to this novel I’d encourage you to keep going as before long I found myself getting completely immersed in the world and excited for each new chapter.
As The Stone Knife is such a large book I feel I’ve barely touched on any of the key points in this review. The novel is wonderful mix of tender moments between friends, political scheming, dark magical elements, and intense battle sequences in the later chapters. This is the first book I’ve read by Anna Stephens but I’m already excited to read its sequel.
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