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Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson

Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson
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Book Name: Unwrapped Sky
Author: Rjurik Davidson
Publisher(s): Tor Books
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: April 15, 2014

When I had decided to give Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson a read, I had gone in with certain expectations. Seeing the head of a powerful Minotaur next to an attractive, serious looking woman holding a dagger in each had on the cover, you’d be forgiven if you thought you were picking up a fantasy novel that was more sword and sorcery than philosophy and morality. Admittedly I did only skim the synopsis of the novel that spoke of the aforementioned Minotaurs, a brewing revolution, and the Houses that had gained the people’s ire, but my inattention didn’t yield a bad read.

Unwrapped Sky is a well-written piece of fiction that forgoes blood and gore to focus on internal debate, emotional upheaval, and how all things, including magic, can be used to either enrich people’s lives or beat them into submission. No, I’m afraid that I simply just didn’t know what I was getting myself into and, perhaps, if I had been a bit more prepared I would have enjoyed this book more than I did. What was it that I didn’t like? Well…

Sad, So Very Sad

Unwrapped Sky follows three main characters, their stories soon intertwined early on in the novel. The first protagonist – and, I’d say, most heavily featured – is Kata, a philosopher-assassin under the command of House Technis, one of three houses of power ruling the ancient city of Caeli-Amur. We’re introduced to Kata during the beginning of the Festival of the Bull, a time when the mysterious and legendary Minotaurs return to their old city from their island home of Aya and are celebrated by all who look upon them. We are quick to learn that our sullen philosopher-assassin is not trolling bars and gazing at muscular, bull-headed men for her own lust but for reasons far more sinister.

The others are Maximilian, a passionate seditionist whose dreams of becoming a master thaumaturgist, war with his desire to set Caeli-Amur’s people free from the bonds of the Houses, and Boris Autec, a house sub-officiate for House Technis. Bores was once a tram-worker who desires for nothing more than to set things right in his life and the lives of Caeli-Amur’s working class through the will of the Houses. At first these three know nothing of the other, but as seditionists sow discontent and grow in numbers, they are each thrown together and forced to take stances they may at, one point, never have considered. It’s a wonderful, if grey, tale that had me asking questions of myself and society right alongside the characters themselves.

My biggest issue with the novel is, unfortunately, one of its key elements: the atmosphere. The entirety of the novel is quite bleak, the anxiety and hurt filling the character’s hearts and minds practically palpable. It had me thinking of stories set during the French Revolution, most notably Les Miserable. The characters and the city are painted in varying shades of grey that don’t allow for much joy or amusement. Even where there is a splash of color – a joke here or a kindness there – it’s so muted by everything else that it can seem almost out of place.

Now, I have no doubt that this was what the author was going for and I applaud him for it. When your setting is a city in which seditionists are planning a revolution, you need to create that air of fear and sadness that will allow the ensuing revolt to seem warranted. However, you also need a sense of hope to leave the reader satisfied by the end and I found that was sorely lacking in this book. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s talk about the stories leads.

You Guys Got Some Issues

Each of the characters struggle with haunted pasts and a present that seems daunting and cruel. Kata is an orphan who survived the city streets before being trained as a philosopher-assassin and serving under House Technis. Though she hates them and is tired of being kept under their thumb, she fears losing the stability and home her service provides if she were to abandon them.

Boris Autec is a broken man with a broken family. Wife dead, his daughter shows him nothing but derision and the friends he once had as a tramworker now look at him as a traitor. His promotion brought him financial gain and greater status but little else. He tries to do right by the workers early on but the machinations of House Technis prove not to coincide with his dreams of a better work environments, especially when the mysterious and alien Elo-Talern return to meddle in house affairs. Compound all of this with an addiction to hot wine and un-returned lust for a mystical opera singing Siren and you are shown a man teetering on the edge of everything yet too oblivious and ignorantly hopeful to see when he is about to fall.

Lastly, we have the seditionist Maxmillian whose experience with the cruelties of the powerful extend to more than just the city’s houses. Spurred to act and tired of waiting under the leadership of Kamron, his seditionist mentor and father figure, he soon convinces the thirty-strong group to start doing more than sit and wait. This begins the true start of the revolution, but it is not only his leadership that bends people to their cause. Ejan, his militaristic rival and ex-prince of the north, believes strength of arms will bring them victory while Maxmillian puts his faith the disenfranchised used by the Houses, and in thaumaturgy, a magic used like science to create and bind. He struggles to act in accordance to his beliefs while yearning for power and knowledge.

Rjurik wrote these characters near perfectly. Each of their voices is distinct and they have differing points of view that you understand, even Boris Autec and his trust in the House (at least for a while anyway). They are individuals who you come to know at their most intimate because you are in their heads throughout the course of the book. It isn’t the conversations with others that bring them the most depth, but their internal monologues and thoughts on what’s happening around them.

What hinders them, again, is the atmosphere. At the beginning of the novel they are each given a glimmer of happiness but it is quickly taken away, so quickly that you forget they ever had anything good in their lives at all. Everything is so incredibly bleak; their lives so incredibly devoid of joy that while you feel for them your unable feel any joy while reading about them. It’s as though your reading through a depressed friend’s journal but you can’t do anything to help them. I understand this was most likely the author’s intent but, personally, I would have preferred to see a few more glimpses of positivity to help balance out the darkness. I don’t believe it would have taken away from the atmosphere, it just would have allowed me as the reader to feel something more than melancholy for these characters.

Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi

This novels overpowering bleakness leaves no room for hope. I never felt that things were going to turn out right for the characters. Even when good things happen, especially in regards to the third act, I wasn’t satisfied because it’s made very clear that, most likely, none of it will last. Yes, it’s great to see the seditionists grow and mobilise and it’s intriguing to see Kata change throughout the story, but without hope it’s a just a sad story that wilts instead of blossoms.

I was surprised that by the end I wasn’t excited or happy. I don’t want to spoil anything but being a story about an impending revolution, you can assume what transpires by the end of the novel. You just don’t get to see it go anywhere. Along with that, the people of Caeli-Amur don’t feel as those they’re in desperate need of saving. Obviously they are; you learn quickly how the Houses treat those in their service and the cost thaumaturgy has on those who use it, but it comes off as though their nudged into fighting by the seditionists instead of being compelled. There’s just an air of compliance throughout the novel which is ironic given its anti-servant mentality.

Wrap It Up

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this novel. Thaumaturgy is a very interesting system of magic and I enjoyed how it corrupted those who used it over a long period of time, their bodies being invaded by entities from the Other Side as a cost of its usage. The Elo-Talern were very creepy and disturbing and you can tell the author has a knack for writing the Weird. Even the world, which wasn’t explored to a large extent, had a lot to offer in terms of mystical creatures like Minotaurs and Sirens as well as pantheon lore.

What also impressed me was the simplicity of philosopher-assassins. I liked that instead of creating simple killers for hire these assassins are tea drinking sophisticates who debate back and forth about their schools of philosophy. Combined with the varying ideologies of the seditionists you get a nice helping of critical thinking material from a fantasy novel, something you might not have expected going in.

Though I liked Unwrapped Sky, I will say you have to be in a particular mindset to read it. If you’re looking for snappy or witty dialogue, crazy adventures, and kickass fight scenes, you will be disappointed. There is some action and there are intense scenes but they’re usually emotional rather than physical. I don’t want to sound rude but this is a thinking person’s fantasy. I say grab it if you want something a little more intellectual on your reading pile. It’s worth the read.

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Rating: 8.5/10 (8 votes cast)
Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson, 8.5 out of 10 based on 8 ratings
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3 Comments

  1. Not going to lie Travis, this sounds exactly like my kind of thing. 🙂

  2. It’s definitely worth a read. Go and pick it up!

  3. Rjurik says:

    Thanks for the review. Just to let you know, the second book, The Stars Askew, takes the revolution elsewhere, and might give and might give you some of that hope you’re looking for. Anyway, thanks again.

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