Content warning: mention of child rape.
The Basilisk Throne is the first book in a new fantasy series by Titan Books that takes readers to a world at war, where the divided human empires have finally come together to destroy a dangerous, inhuman force that has enslaved their peoples, destroyed their lands, and ruled with fear. However, victory is a hard won thing, and for the several characters that we follow, treachery, double-dealings, and ancient secrets will stand in the way of survival or utter defeat.
The plot of The Basilisk Throne is not an easy one to get your head around at first, due in part to it following several different characters spread around the world that Greg Keyes has created, but also because the world that Greg Keyes has created is incredibly dense, and filled with tons of lore. For those that love to discover very well crafted worlds, filled with various peoples, nations, and politics, you’re going to get a lot out of this novel.
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The story of The Basilisk Throne is split across a number of narratives, as the three human empires of Ophion, Velesa, and Modjal manage to put their differences aside to come together to deal with the Drehhu, a race of large, humanoid creatures that once ruled the whole world from the Basilisk Throne, but have slowly been driven back into smaller and smaller territory over the generations. The Drehhu are considered to be monstrous, and use powerful magics to propel their huge, metal ship across the ocean, spitting invisible magic at their victims that blow ships to pieces within moments. Those that they don’t kill they take as slaves, forced to work for the Drehhu’s powerful empire. But now the three human empires have decided to launch a final war against the Drehhu, with the aim to ending them once and for all.
The narrative follows a number of characters. The main characters are the Nevelon family. The patriarch, Alastor, recently promoted to Admiral in the merchant fleet, and who was once a slave of the Drehhu, is one of the first characters that we meet, but takes a back seat for the later parts of the book as his children start to lead the narrative. His son, Crespin, is a member of the navy, and is happy to see his people go to war with the Drehhu. However, thanks to his father’s new position as Admiral, he gets transferred from his military vessel to serve under his father. Resenting the transfer, and seeing it as a punishment, Crespin will not only have to learn to work with a new crew, but will have to come to terms with the kind of man he wants to be.
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There’s also Chrysanthe, Alastor’s eldest daughter. Having grown up on her family estate she’s become a forthright young woman with a strong sense of right and wrong, and a sharp head on her shoulders. Expecting to take over the running of the estate when her father and brothers go to war, she’s surprised to learn that she’s being sent to the capital, Ophion Magna, as a political hostage. However, her father has charged her with a secretive mission: to use her wits and her intelligence to move within high society to try to uncover secret plots at play that could cause harm to the Nevelon family, or even risk the outcome of the war itself.
On the other side of the world we meet two other characters. There’s Hound, a native man who has been raised by some kind of forest witch or spirit, who is hired to lead a group of people through the dangerous woodland to a remote mountain. Their reasons for going there are kept secret, but it’s clear that their mission is one of great importance, with many lives in the balance. And there’s also Ammolite, a young woman who was sold into slavery at a young age and raised to her teens in isolation by a powerful magic user. Once she reached her sixteenth birthday the magician began to force her to drink a potion that would transform her into his lost love, and would then rape her. Having lived that way for years now, enduring assault after assault, Ammolite is desperate to find a way out.
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The various plots in The Basilisk Throne seem fairly unconnected at first, but as the book progresses it becomes clearer that Keyes is playing a very long, calculated game here. The characters begin to meet, their stories begin to get connected, and a much larger narrative begins to form. Unfortunately, it can take a while for certain pieces of the puzzle to begin to appear, and there are times where characters will simply vanish from the narrative for a long while as everyone else’s stories get to a point where they’ve all caught up. It makes getting into The Basilisk Throne a bit more difficult than I was expecting.
The fact that one of the opening chapters also deals with the repeated sexual assault of a child is also something that makes starting the book quite hard. The book doesn’t contain any trigger warnings for this, and there are a number of times where characters are misogynistic and engage in sexual harassment and grossly sexualised thoughts about women, including main ‘heroic’ characters that often left an unpleasant taste in my mouth, and even had me putting the book down a time or two. Thanks to this, and the length and sheer density of the material, this is a book that took me much longer than normal to read, and there were times that I skipped it to read something else because the idea of going back to it wasn’t hugely appealing.
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That being said, there is a lot of good to be found in The Basilisk Throne, and if you’re able to stick with it during the earlier stages of the book you’ll find some entertaining and engaging things in its pages. But, it’s a tough read at times. Hopefully, future parts of this series will either feature less content that deals with child rape (for instance), or will at least come with a warning.
The Basilisk Throne is an entertaining read, set in a very well realised and densely crafted world that the author has clearly spent a lot of time building. The characters are interesting, and their stories have moments of excitement, danger, and intrigue aplenty. For fans of huge fantasy epics filled with battles, court politics, and mystery, this is a book that you might want to try out.
The Basilisk Throne is out now from Titan Books.