It is not a foreign concept, in fantasy, to have two elements like light and darkness set as oppositions. In fact, it can almost be argued that it’s done too often. Thea Guanzon’s execution in this, however, is perfect. Set against a detailed political backdrop and an overwhelmingly vivid magic-system, whilst taking inspiration from the mythology and lore of the author’s native Philippines, The Hurricane Wars is a sweeping epic fantasy that will surely take the fantasy romance sub-genre by storm. (See what I did there? Hah.)
Talasyn has been fighting in the Hurricane Wars all her life. A helmsman in the Sardovian army, Talasyn has known nothing else but the innate need to survive – and to stop at nothing to do so. What separates her from the rest of her fellow helmsmen, as well as the rest of the world, is the powerful light coursing through her veins, branding her as the last surviving Lightweaver, after the Night Emperor had slaughtered the rest. Prince Alaric of House Ossinast, Master of the Shadowforged Legion and heir to the Night Emperor, follows one path, and it is to obey his father, and to later follow in his footsteps. That is until he comes across Talasyn on an empty battlefield, lit up with the power that he had once believed was eradicated. Their clash of opposing powers bring forth a litany of revelations; the most foreboding being that they must work together against a darker magic that is threatening to overtake the continent, leaving the possibility of survival in the hands of two volatile and bitter enemies.
Alaric and Talasyn meet for the first time in the second chapter, and it is a truly glorious first meet. Whilst fighting off a hulking legionnaire, Talasyn finds that in order to survive this particular ordeal, she’ll have to exhibit her Lightweaver powers, despite being instructed to keep her abilities secret. Alaric intercepts her before she can kill the legionnaire, and they set off on a lethal dance of raw vengeance and slight curiosity. The chemistry between the two is first rooted in this scene, where they are at odds with each others opposing powers, until a defensive strike leads them to combine their powers, Lightweaver and Shadowforged, to create an unexpected barrier; the first of its kind. The angst that follows from this introduction is palpable, and breathes a steady life into the rest of the novel.
Whilst the novel borders grimdark to an extent, it is important to note that The Hurricane Wars pivots on the romance between Alaric and Talasyn, whilst still maintaining a strong hold on the political warfare between the two kingdoms. Readers are still able experience classic grimdark elements: battles, duels, the throes of war and the brutality of an empire. But one does not overcome the other, in that Guanzon manages to balance the romance with the political backdrop very well, never overwhelming one side more than necessary. I’ve always appreciated when a political fantasy is able to convince me to somewhat sympathise with both parties. Wars are not so black and white, and so it was thrilling reading from both perspectives, especially in a third person narrative. Both characters remain loyal to their beliefs and to their nations, while allowing themselves to explore the possibilities of what a coalition between them could bring. It was terrifically refreshing, and so very addictive.
The pacing is perfect; the storyline stays lively throughout to ensure the reader is engaged, and no span of time is ever too short or lightly skimmed, neither is it convoluted or unnecessary. The author has the talent of seamlessly transitioning to different settings and point of views without it seeming forced or unfulfilled. Guanzon’s gift for storytelling is coupled with her ability to imbue the readers into the South-East Asian-inspired culture of the world she has built. It is with both that she was able to create such an immersive reading experience, one that had me gasping, laughing and crying, all in the same sitting! The name of the sequel hasn’t even been announced yet, and I already know that it will be my most anticipated read for the coming year. Guanzon has stepped into the ever-growing game of writing enemies-to-lovers, and with The Hurricane Wars, she will surely remain a worthy player.