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Soleri    by Michael Johnston order for
by Michael Johnston
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2017 (2017)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Here's a new and intriguing author on the fantasy scene. With Soleri, Michael Johnston opens a series which resonates with ancient Egypt and also elements of Shakespeare's King Lear. The extensive Soleri Empire has held power for close to three thousand years, but its rulers (descended from gods) remain behind the Shroud Wall and have only been seen by an intermediary, the First Ray of the Sun, for centuries.

The Ray who voices the rulers' orders, controls its kingdoms with an iron fist, taking heirs as hostages when they are children, and raising them brutally in the Priory of Tolemy. An heir is only released when the kingdom's ruler dies or a rebel takes over. Though the Harkan king, Arko Hark-Wadi, was not such a hostage (his father rebelled and won his freedom), his own son Ren has been held in the Priory since he was very young. Arko-Hark Wadi's ambitious eldest daughter Merit helps him rule the kingdom (and craves her own power), while his tomboyish younger daughter Kepi excels in martial arts.

Different story strands follow each of the Harkans, including Arko's estranged wife Sarra, who left the family to become Mother Priestess of the Empire's Temple of Mithra. There is unrest because of the failure of the yearly eclipse and Sarra's power is being challenged by the new Protector, who controls the armies. We see young Ren with his close friends, Tye (a girl disguised as a boy) and Adin. The latter is being released after merchant Dagrun revolted and took over the Feren kingdom. Soon, the Ray summons Ren to inform him that he's also being released and his father ordered to become a sacrifice to the emperor.

There are many attempts on Ren's life as he makes his way back to Harkana. He meets his father briefly but avoids his sisters after he learns who is behind the assassination attempts. Instead he seeks his friend Adin and to rescue Tye from the Priory. The plot threads twist, turn and knot together in intriguing ways. Kepi is given no choice but to wed her sister's lover, Dagrun. She resists at first. When Arko penetrates the Shroud Wall, the world changes for him. And Sarra knows that the realm is almost out of amaranth seeds, desperately needed for survival. For her, 'Secrets are power' and she intends to wield it.

Indeed many secrets are revealed by the end of this first episode in what promises to be an exciting new fantasy series. I look forward to what comes next.

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