Series: The Knots Duology #1
Release Date: 8th February 2015
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Fifteen-year-old Raim lives in a world where you tie a knot for every promise that you make. Break that promise and you are scarred for life, and cast out into the desert.
Raim has worn a simple knot around his wrist for as long as he can remember. No one knows where it came from or which promise of his it symbolizes, and he barely thinks about it at all--not since becoming the most promising young fighter ever to train for the elite Yun guard. But on the most important day of his life, when he binds his life to his best friend--and future king--Khareh, the string bursts into flames and sears a dark mark into his skin. Scarred now as an oathbreaker, Raim has two options: run or die.
The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is an interesting take on the fantasy genre with quite a unique story premise, I feel. McCulloch weaves a tale about two boys who live in an unforgiving desert climate whose people follow a loosely Middle Eastern cultural tradition. First of all I was very impressed by the inclusion of a non-typical POC main character, and the depiction of a culture that was influenced largely by the East rather than the West immediately sets this book apart from a lot of fantasy novels, giving it a promising edge.
Raim, our main character, introduces us to a world in which promises are sacred things – breaking a promise made formally, with the use of knots, is not only a sacrilege that causes the ‘oathbreaker’ to be shunned from society but results in the manifestation of a shadow creature that haunts the unlucky promise breaker for the rest of their lives. There are many intriguing rules and exceptions, such as children not being able to make formal promises because they are too young to understand the responsibility of such a burden. Raim, marked with a knot to symbolize a promise that he can’t remember making, is marked as an Oathbreaker when he breaks that promise by making another with his best friend. If this sounds confusing, it should be. Raim’s situation is entirely unique, and I found myself really liking how it opened the world up. Raim realizes he must journey to the last refuge for the oathbreakers; a city located in inhospitable lands. He is kept company by Draikh, probably the most intriguing character in the book, and Raim’s shadow spirit borne out of the broken oath.
The story is an engaging one and I definitely enjoyed the frankly refreshing setting and characters. McCulloch, I think, really tried to write a different kind of fantasy novel and it mostly works. I enjoyed the premise of the knots and more so, the idea that promises hold so much power. Raim is not very compelling as a protagonist but his companion, Draikh, is far more fascinating and their relationship quickly became my favourite aspect of the novel. I will always sign up for ~complicated~ friendships that blur the lines between romantic and platonic because they are the BEST thing.
I think I will be reading the next book in the series and I do think this is worth a read, especially for those of you who enjoy fantasy but are tired of the same tropes and characters.