After a vicious ruler’s reign mercifully ended, the three nations of Meraria formed the Trifecta, and since then, Humans, Elves, and Dwarves have lived in peace for centuries. But now there’s a startling double homicide in the city of Trifectus. Senior officer Kelt McNair takes the murder case and quickly learns that one of the victims was part of the Guardians—essentially the Trifecta’s police force. Kelt was once a renowned Spell Breaker—a hunter of necromancers—though he’s now retired from that job. The Trifecta regulates the use of magic and especially frowns on necromancy—involving communication with the dead—as the late, evil king had been a practitioner. As the investigation continues, 17-year-old loner Xeile Taeris makes his way to Trifectus. He’s dying from a mysterious disease, and his final wish is to forgive Kelt, whom he blames for his mother’s execution. Xeile sees and sometimes converses with spirits, making him an illegal necromancer, but it also puts him in a position to help with the murder case, as he can speak to dead victims. Not all spirits are harmless, though; a monstrous horse, emanating “a black ominous mist” and sporting “bloody crimson” eyes, regularly shows up and attacks people; there’s a chance that this wraith is the killer terrorizing Trifectus. It’s also unquestionably tied to Xeile, whose dark, murky history may play a part in what’s happening in the present.
Wilshusen keeps his epic novel focused with a relatively small cast. The perspective narrative alternates among Xeile, Kelt, and Guardians Criske Val-Zhang and Henrik Ihvihlan. The well-developed characters ease readers into a mystery that relies heavily on dense, complicated history. For example, half-Elf Criske and Dwarf Henrik first meet when they share a patrol, which sparks a growing friendship. Henrik also enthusiastically talks about Meraria’s past de ella, but it’s the two’s discovery of a body that truly immerses them in the main investigation. This likable duo counterbalances the much more complex Xeile and Kelt. Xeile is a relentlessly tortured and enigmatic soul for much of the book; Kelt, though an able and fair senior officer, sometimes wields his authority from him brutally, using the “dark-stained whipping post” to punish offenses. The book thrives on deliberately obscure backstories, with details revealed only gradually, and genuinely shocking turns. Xeile, for instance, does not know everything about his mother’s death despite him witnessing her execution. Other surprises crop up, as well, such as what’s making Xeile so sick and the source of that ferocious “giant horse spirit.” Wilshusen’s generally unadorned prose keeps scenes moving at a steady beat, but he occasionally spruces up the tale with colorful descriptions: “In an instant, her dark-purple aura flared to life, the flickering violet surrounding her body de ella. The stones slowly changed color until they matched her aura. ” The ending packs a punch, thanks to one character’s impassioned speech, and forges a clear path to a sequel.