The Leopard & The Lady – Marakand – K.V. Johansen

The Leopard

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Release date: June 10th, 2014
Publisher: Pyr Books
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 432
Format: Paperback
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

In the days of the first kings in the North, there were seven devils…

Ahjvar, the assassin known as the Leopard, wants only to die, to end the curse that binds him to a life of horror. Although he has no reason to trust the goddess Catairanach or her messenger Deyandara, fugitive heir to a murdered tribal queen, desperation leads him to accept her bargain: if he kills the mad prophet known as the Voice of Marakand, Catairanach will free him of his curse. Accompanying him on his mission is the one person he has let close to him in a lifetime of death, a runaway slave named Ghu. Ahj knows Ghu is far from the half-wit others think him, but in Marakand, the great city where the caravan roads of east and west meet, both will need to face the deepest secrets of their souls, if either is to survive the undying enemies who hunt them and find a way through the darkness that damns the Leopard.

To Marakand, too, come a Northron wanderer and her demon verrbjarn lover, carrying the obsidian sword Lakkariss, a weapon forged by the Old Great Gods to bring their justice to the seven devils who escaped the cold hells so long before.

The Lady

The Lady - K.V. Johansen

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Release date: December 9th, 2014
Publisher: Pyr Books
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 435
Format: Paperback
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Possessed by a ghost who feeds on death, the undying assassin Ahjvar the Leopard has been captured by the Lady of Marakand, enslaved by necromancy to be captain of her Red Masks. His shield-bearer Ghu, a former slave with an uncanny ability to free the captive dead, follows Ahjvar into the war-torn lands of the Duina Catairna to release him, even if that means destroying what is left of Ahj’s tormented soul.

Deyandara, the last surviving heir of the Catairnan queen, rides into a land ravaged by disease and war, seeking the allies she abandoned months before, though they have no hope of standing against the army led by the invulnerable Red Masks of Marakand and the divine terror of the Lady.

In the city of Marakand, former enemies ally and old friends seek one another’s deaths as loyalists of the entombed gods Gurhan and Ilbialla raise a revolt, spearheaded by the Grasslander wizard Ivah, the shapeshifting Blackdog, and the bear-demon Mikki. The Lady’s defences are not easily breached, though, and the one enemy who might withstand her, the Northron wanderer Moth, bearer of the sword Lakkariss, has vanished.

Review:

‘The Leopard’ and ‘The Lady’ are a two-book fantasy series set in the same world as ‚Blackdog’. The two books can be read without having read ‚Blackdog’, but I’d recommend reading that book first. I hadn’t read it when I started The Leopard and though it is a whole different story set in the same world, there are characters and reference to the story in ‚Blackdog’ that will be lost on anyone who hasn’t read that one.

‘The Leopard’ and ‘The Lady’ are one big book split in two. It is quite obvious this used to be one continuous story before it was split. The characters that start the story in ‘The Leopard’ disappear halfway through the story to give the stage to a whole new set of characters. I thought this was an interesting choice. The first set of characters set the whole story in motion and lead us to Marakand, one of the most important cities in the book. There another cast of characters takes over and continues the story in Marakand, while the others continue their journey to other parts of the country.

Their are two main story lines throughout the two books. The first is that of Deyandara, Ahjvar and Ghu. Deyandara is the bastard daughter of a Queen and the half sister of the High King. When her family is murdered by the forces of Marakand, the Goddess of her land, Catairanah, sends her to find The Leopard, an assassin, so she can execute revenge on Marakand. Ahjvar and his companion Ghu, though reluctant at first, follow her to Marakand.
Ahjvar, cursed by the Goddess Catairanah seeks only an end to the torment he has been going through for years. A murdering spirit lives inside him, wakening every other night, hungry for blood. Ahjvar story is a fascinating one. The details of his past unfold at the end of ‘The Lady’ and I was very satisfied by how he fit into the greater picture.
Ghu remains a mystery until the very end. As Ahjvar’s loyal companion, he first seems a bit slow at first, more a servant than anything else. But later on we find out that Ghu is much more than that and I thought it was fantastic how he slowly became a big force in the story, though he isn’t one of the most important characters at first.

The second storyline is that of the Lady of Marakand, who has corrupted the city. There are those who see through her deception and want to overthrow her, to bring back peace, prosperity and the rightful Gods to the city. They are a varied bunch those. Ivah is a wizard who has already made an appearance in ‚Blackdog’, while the Blackdog himself is also in the city. The demon bear (name) and his partner Moth have also arrived in the city, because Moth has a very specific and dangerous mission to complete. Together with the last priest of one of the old Gods they try to make an end to the Lady’s reign, but to do that they have to face the fearsome Red Masks first. And not just anyone can kill the Red Masks. The most interesting thing about this storyline though was in my opinion Zora’s perspective. Zora is a dancer in the temple of the Lady, but she’s actually still loyal to the old Gods. However, when the old Voice of the Lady is murdered, she is chosen to take her place. But instead of talking through The Voice, as the Lady has always done in the past, The Lady takes over Zora body, so she can have more control over the city. It is soon clear however that The Lady isn’t the Goddess she pretends to be. All these different souls/personalities in one body must cause some confusion and the author has depicted this wonderfully. The chapters told from The Lady/Zora’s perspective are incoherent, chaotic and sometimes difficult to follow. Though this may be jarring for some readers, I thought it was very fascinating and a very bold choice to use this kind of narrative.

Next to all these great characters and their fight for righteousness, the world building definitely also deserves a mention. A Middle-Eastern setting with interesting cultures and tribes gave the perfect background this story needed.

It was interesting to watch the story of the devils/wizards unfold. Starting the books, you know the story of the seven devils who merged their souls with that of the seven wizards and who were later imprisoned by the Gods and Goddesses of the land.
The devils tricked the wizards in joining their body to be able to roam the world and rule it. What they didn’t expect is that merging their soul with that of another being would change them as much as it would change the other. During the story we encounter a few of these devils and it’s interesting to see how different they’ve become and what road they want to walk on Earth.I loved how the Gods and Goddesses of the land were very flawed and also able to die. Though most are benign and want to help their folk and their land, they also make very human mistakes. The fact that they can be punished and can be killed made them kind of vulnerable. Though they are ethereal and command reverence, they still have a weak spot.

The story comes to a powerful conclusion in ‘The Lady’, giving us closure for both the major story lines. I was more than satisfied by the ending and the exciting action-filled last battles. Some of the characters seem set on a certain path after all that happened in Marakand and in the Duina Catairna, but some still have an interesting future ahead of them that could give rise to a continuation of their story.

The Marakand books were among my favourite reads of 2014. I enjoyed reading both of them very much. These books are a rich Epic Fantasy written in a complex, but beautiful writing style that is immensely captivating. I would recommend to first read ‚Blackdog’ before you start this two-parter. It will give you more background on some of the characters that is lacking in these books. Another tip is to really view these books as one and read them one after the other, it will give you a more coherent and fluent story.
Overall a series that I very much enjoyed and I will be keeping an eye out for more work from K.V. Johansen in the future!

 

Read an interview with the author about Blackdog, The Lady and The Leopard.

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Posted on January 9, 2015, in K.V. Johansen and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Glad to hear you liked them! I was enjoying the first part of The Leopard but unfortunately lagged out after that. I wasn’t enthusiastic about picking up the Lady because of that, but I’m pleased to hear the duology worked for you.

    • The first book left me a bit confused as well, but I liked the premise of the story and I wanted to find out how it all ended. The second book was definitely more clear and reading them almost one after the other has certainly helped me understand everything and see the whole picture.

  1. Pingback: Update – December & January | Draumr Kópa

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