Author- Rebecca Zahabi
Title- The Collarbound
Publication Date- 12 May 2022
Comment- I received a free ARC from Gollancz and the author. I leave a voluntary review which is in no way influenced by the threat of being mind-sucked and turned into a lacunant.
A MAN MARKED BY MAGIC. A WOMAN MARKED BY HER PAST.
On the other side of the Shadowpass, rebellion is brewing and refugees have begun to trickle into the city at the edge of the world. Looming high on the cliff is The Nest, a fortress full of mages who offer protection, but also embody everything the rebellion is fighting against: a strict hierarchy based on magic abilities.
When Isha arrives as a refugee, she attempts to fit in amongst the other mages, but her Kher tattoo brands her as an outcast. She can’t remember her past or why she has the tattoo. All she knows is that she survived. She doesn’t intend to give up now.
Tatters, who wears the golden collar of a slave, knows that this rebellion is different from past skirmishes. He was once one of the rebels, and technically, they still own him. He plans to stay in the shadows, until Isha appears in his tavern. He’s never seen a human with a tattoo, and the markings look eerily familiar . . .
As the rebellion carves a path of destruction towards the city, an unlikely friendship forms between a man trying to escape his past and a woman trying to uncover hers, until their secrets threaten to tear them apart.
You know sometimes when you start to explain something to someone, you start with “So there’s this guy. No, wait, we’ll start with the girl. Except I have to tell you about the war first. Wait, there’s the world building. GAHH!”
It’s like the whole story is so interwoven and reliant on each aspect that you can’t really separate one aspect from another.
Well, this story is like that. In a good way.
Anyway I’ll try to simplify.
Mages can enter each other’s minds and there is an academy for teaching this skill. Isha has been brought to this academy to learn how to be one of these mages except she has the facial tattoo of a band of creatures called the kher. They are human except for their size and the fact that they have horns like rams which grow out of their head. They live longer than humans but are kept as slaves.
But Isha is human and has had to fight all of her life to be seen beyond the tattoo inked onto her as a child by her parents. A childhood she has no memory of and parents she doesn’t know.
Whilst on her first outing she meets Tatters. Tatters wears the golden collar of a slave but wanders freely, not allowing anyone to see who he really is underneath. He stays in the shadows of the academy trying to stay under the radar but surreptitiously teaching students and apprentices the art of the mindbrawl. (a sort of internal argument between three people)
But refugees are arriving from far away through some sort of shadowland and they bring with them the threat of war. Tatters knows that this rebellion is more than a threat and that, somehow, Isha is a part of it. As they grow closer to each other and closer to the kher, secrets threaten to tear them all apart.
So that’s it. but that’s not all of it.
There are exquisitely detailed nuances of cultural differences reminiscent of Native traditions. There are depictions of rampant colonial ignorance and interference. The arrogance of the mages versus pretty much everyone else is so staggering that you wonder why there wasn’t more of an uprising decades ago. Despite our two main narrators being wedged firmly in the middle of both sides, you can’t even tell who they think are the good guys let alone decide for yourself.
The world-building in this fantasy world is unique and yet you can see so many parallels to our own history that you can identify with it immediately.
I must admit that I was very confused about which was Sunriser, Wingshade and other names for humans from different territories. I would have loved to have had a glossary at the beginning of the book explaining some of these terms and a map showing the area so it was easier to picture it.
I loved the characters- especially the kher and Tatter’s relationship with them.
This definitely isn’t a YA and has graphic depictions of torture and abuse, but if you liked the Poppy War or the City of Brass I would highly recommend giving this a try.
Thank you to Gollancz and the author for allowing me the opportunity to read it.