Publisher: Night Harbor Publishing
Author: Melissa McShane
Price: $11.99 / $2.99
Zerafine is a priestess of Atenas. As a dedicated servant of the God of Death, Zerafine travels where she is needed with her companion/bodyguard Gerrard, bringing peace to tortured souls and guiding them to their final rest in the God’s care. Now they are being sent to Portenas, the oldest city in the world, where mysterious apparitions are terrifying the population. If they are ghosts, Zerafine must put them to rest. But of they are not …? If they are evidence of an ancient secret and a modern conspiracy that others will kill to protect …? Even Gerrard may not be able to keep Zerafine safe ….
McShane wrote one of my favorite paranormal Regency novels, Burning Bright (think Master and Commander meets Pride and Prejudice, with magic); so when I learned that she had written an epic fantasy/mystery set in a polytheistic society, I couldn’t wait to read it.
First, Emissary is just plain fun. The characters are well-developed and appealing. Zerafine is compassionate, empathetic, and devoted to her God and her sworn duty. Gerrard is clever, funny, and just as devoted to Atenas (something which forced him to flee his northern homeland, where worship of the God of Death is virtually forbidden). They are the perfect pair, best friends who have faced innumerable dangers side by side, and who will face many more in the future.
The world-building is just as detailed. City-states and nation-states are scattered across the land and, for the most part, seem to co-exist peacefully despite their different governing styles and cultures. People travel freely, and the priests and priestesses of the different Deities are welcome wherever they go (though priestesses such as Zerafine can run into problems when fear of death turns to anger and hatred). McShane put a lot of thought into creating the pantheon of Emissary: six pairs of complementary Deities, plus Atenas. Interestingly, there is no Deity of War. Only a few play a role in the story (such as Kalindi, the Goddess of the sun and healing, and Sintha the Goddess of luck, and Sukman, the God of Madness), but it is the Deities themselves who ultimately hold the key to solving the mystery in Portenas.
The ghosts whom Zerafine and Gerrard usually encounter are also quite interesting. In the world of Emissary, these are the confused and distraught spirits of the deceased who have failed to move on to the afterlife. They have no solid form of their own; instead, when they manifest, the ghosts attract and collect a metal called seicorum. Seicorum is extremely rare, and only appears in useable quantities through the work of such spirits. After a ghost is exorcised (or consoled, as Zerafine would say), the seicorum remains and will be harvested and put to use by Atenas’ dedicants and anyone else who can grab some. I’ve never before seen ghosts described in this way in a story.
If I have one complaint, it’s that I would have liked an epilogue to end of the book. I wish we could have learned what became of some of the secondary characters, and several of the villains.
Overall, Emissary is a fun and highly entertaining read. Highly recommended to anyone looking for a polytheistic fantasy with a sympathetic portrayal of the God of Death, as well as fans of The Malykant Mysteries by Charlotte E. English, The Girl With Ghost Eyes by M.H. Boroson, and Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard.
[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]