REVIEW: Obsidian: Awakening by Sienna Frost

Obsidian: Awakening is a grimdark fantasy inspired by the desert cultures of the Mongolian nomads and the Bedouins. As the first book in an intended series, it explores the world of two warring cultures and, at its heart, is a story about people who find resilience and love in the absence of hope and kindness.

Obsidian: AwakenngOne such person is Hasheem: a male escort-turned-assassin who becomes a fugitive after a woman is found dead in his room. Forced to flee the Salasar city of Rasharwi, he returns to his homeland of the White Desert, from which he was taken as a child. Here, he encounters Djari, the daughter of a powerful Shakshi tribe leader, who is prophesised to end the long and bloody war between the Shakshi people and the Salasar Empire–for better or worse.

Obsidian: Awakening is told through numerous point-of-view characters, from both sides of the conflict. This narrative choice works well: readers are unable to easily determine which characters are truly ‘good’, and it lays the groundwork for maximum emotional devastation when the two sides finally collide in later books. However, this narrative choice could have been even more effective if there were fewer POV characters—especially those belonging to side characters whom we meet once and then never again. A Dramatic Personae—and a map—would have also been helpful.

Nonetheless, the diversity and breadth of Sienna Frost’s characters is arguably the book’s greatest strength. Almost all the main characters in Obsidian: Awakening toe the line between duty and desire, and Djari’s oracle brother Nazir is a great example of this. He is repeatedly shown throughout the book to make tough decisions with devastating consequences—sometimes even at his own expense—to serve the greater good of his tribe.

Salar Muradi and his Shakshi wife Zahara are another highlight. Having been stolen from the White Desert and forced to marry Muradi, Zahara determinedly regards her husband with hatred. However, much to Muradi’s despair, this only makes her more desirable to him. Their complex relationship is utterly gripping to read, and their fraught, fractious exchanges are easily my favourite parts of the book. In fact, Muradi alone is such an interesting character. A charming and intelligent villain with all the world on his shoulders, I could read about his political machinations and dangerously ill-advised love for Zahara all day.

Unfortunately, main characters Hasheem and Djari are easily the weakest of the cast. I much prefer the politically charged, family drama segments in Rasharwi to the more action-based scenes in the White Desert. Considering much of the story revolves around Djari’s destiny and her relationship with Hasheem, this was a bit of problem for me. I found my interest waning during the middle of Obsidian: Awakening where the scenes in the desert become far more numerous, and there are very few POV changes away from Hasheem.

There are also several, completely unnecessary and distasteful instances of sexual assault. I know this is a grimdark book, but rape is a topic that needs to be handled sensitively, irrespective of the genre it is being written in. In Obsidian: Awakening, such scenes serve only to demonstrate the sheer villainy of a character, and the traumatic aftermath is never adequately explored.

Sienna Frost deploys a notably pretty writing style and has a lovely flair for vivid description. However, her delivery at times can be too lengthy or involved. Dialogue is often followed by an unnecessary internal monologue, or a chunky passage of clarifying prose. A similar
critique can also be applied to Frost’s worldbuilding: whilst she has clearly put a lot of thought, care and effort into crafting such a rich and believable world, information about that world is often delivered as large passages of exposition instead of being permitted to bleed
through the prose naturally. At times, this makes for slow and frustrating reading.

Overall, Obsidian: Awakening is a unique and well-realised grimdark fantasy. However, the lengthy prose and occasional insensitivity regarding heavier topics wore on me over time. If such things do not bother you, you will find much to love in this rich, character-driven book.

Read Obsidian: Awakening by Sienna Frost

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Sally Berrow

Sally Berrow

Sally presently resides behind a mountainous pile of books in Greenhithe, UK, kept alive only by tea and surrounded by a menagerie of animals. A lifelong fantasy lover with a tendency towards the darker side of the genre, she hopes one day to write a grimdark fantasy of her own, inspired by the Golden Age of Piracy. She considers wringing an apology from Joe Abercrombie to be her greatest achievement.