The War of the First Day, by Thomas Fleet: A Review

The War of the First Day, by Thomas Fleet, is a rollicking, fast-paced adult fantasy novel. Witch-aspirant Lilta kidnaps the Taxian royal heir on the instructions of her mistress, but rapidly discovers she is caught up in a complex web of betrayal within her own kind. In attempting to both survive and negotiate the civil war that erupts in the Witchlands, Lilta must embrace her own magical powers and make decisions to act independently, risking not only her own life but potentially much, much more. As the magical Day of All Centuries approaches, Lilta must decide to act before the traitors of the Witchlands use the power of the day for their own purposes.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s not easily classified: it certainly isn’t classic (or stereotypical) high fantasy: magic is at the heart of the story, but guards who shout “Shit, a witch!” and witches who refer to another witch as “You traitorous little bitch,” are not voicing the usual expressions to be found in high fantasy. But while the characters use language and expressions that sound like fairly typical 21st Century North American speech, it is not out of place in the complex world Fleet has imagined. This is a world of political rivalries, where characters jostle for power and will go to any length to obtain it: it just happens to be one where magic is the chief weapon in use.

There are a lot of twists and turns in this story, and I don’t want to spoil it for readers. At its heart I read it as a coming of age story, where the protagonist Lilta must learn for herself the extent and limitations of her magic and the price for using it. There are aspects of traditional concepts of women’s power, especially that of the tripartite goddess figure, woven into the story, as well as links between magic and mathematics which are familiar from a number of sources. Fleet interweaves these influences and concepts with skill, building a believable world both in terms of the magic and the politics.

The ending of the story, without giving it away, was conceptually reminiscent of the endings of stories by some of the science-fiction classics from Asimov, Clarke or LeGuin: a surprise, and one that leaves the reader thinking.

The writing is highly competent, active narration occasionally interspersed with descriptions of precise beauty: “Far above, a line of birds flew, their beating wings flashing in the sun’s rays. The pulse of brightness played up and down their line like the sun on water, a glittering, fluid flow of light.” The pacing is solid, Lilta’s internal dialogues and realizations occurring naturally within the flow of action. I found no production errors in the e-pub version I read.

Overall, while this will not be a story to everyone’s taste – in part because it isn’t easily classified into a genre – I’m giving it five stars. Please note this caveat: this is, due to sexuality and language, a book for adult readers, not a young-adult fantasy.

The author provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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