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  • Writer's pictureAshley Mongrain

Stronghold

Updated: Jul 16, 2021


Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2


"No one knows where it came from. Or why, for that matter. Maybe the Stronghold has always been there. Silent. Foreboding. Expectant. Generations came and went. Wars raged. Kingdoms rose and fell. But the Stronghold stood and observed the history as it was written before it in blood, fire, and tears. Not a single soul has ever made it inside the Stronghold. But some sure tried."


 

Stronghold is a standalone novel by Kesha Bakunin that defied all my expectations.


I would first like to thank NetGalley and Atmosphere Press for sending me a copy to review. Please note that this in no way affects my opinions on the book.


I will admit that going into this I was a bit trepidatious as the summary only gives you a vague and broad idea as to what the plot entails, and the reviews I had seen so far categorized this as a hard read. Needless to say, I am overjoyed by the fact that my worries were for naught as I immensely enjoyed this book, and here are all the reasons why.


Content Warnings: child abandonment, mentions of rape and molestation, torture



Writing


While I can understand why many people would struggle with the writing of this book, I thought that it was extremely well written, especially given the fact that this was re-written from the author's first language. The vocabulary can be rather wordy or academic, but I find that that only added to my reading experience.


What mainly worked for me is the fact that this is not written like a typical book, it is instead a chronicle of specific times and people within this world. Again, this could be a leading factor as to why many people may have a hard time reading it as this is more of a history than a story. For me, as someone who studied history, I found this story to be rather enthralling.


Another crucial thing to know about the format of the books is that, despite being a chronicle, the timeline is non-linear. As the story bounces around, it did take a bit of getting used to in the beginning when I was not used to the places or characters yet. You also do not get a static POV as the story is told through several lenses.


In the end, the non-linear timeline paid off though as the way information was revealed and how the plot lines connected were immaculate. All the events and character storylines were intricately woven together extremely well.



Plot


As previously stated, this book is a chronicle that focuses on specific people during specific times in a place known as the Known World and is centered around something that is called the Stronghold. As you can see, this is a very ambitious plot as the plot in and of itself is incredibly vague. While everything and everyone is connected to each other and connected to the Stronghold in some sense, it is a bit lose considering how much goes on in this.


Throughout the book, you take a deep dive into the lives and history of these people over time. This captured me from page one with a story that starts with a bang and grips you all the way to the end. The way the plot unravels keeps you going as the connections between people in the current and past timelines are revealed spectacularly. This sense of intrigue more than makes up for the vague plot.


Where the plot falls off a bit for me though would be the very end of the book. We spend the majority of 500 pages in the dark as to who the people referred to as Those are and what the Stronghold is. While it did take me completely off guard and I had to re-evaluate everything I just read, I don't think I quite liked what the answer to those questions was.


There were also some minor plot aspects and stories that were mentioned offhand that also bothered me a bit. One aspect, for example, is that I would have liked more information about Queen Ursula. She was described as being a prominent figure in history, but we don't really get to know much about her. I understand that there is only so much history that can be covered in this, but considering how important she was to the people, it would have been nice to get at least something from her timeline.


I also would have liked to see the characters through to their end. Now, I know that cannot possibly be done in one book and the likelihood of there being a continuation of the story is improbable, but I felt like the book ended abruptly just as everything was starting to come to a head. The entire story, in essence, was a build-up for what was going to happen inevitably in the future.



World-Building


Not only do we get a map of the Known World, but we also have a family tree of the line of rulers which is extremely convenient. It was a bit overwhelming at first getting to know the world, but there are only a handful of places that are covered so the world isn't overly expansive to the point where there is too much to follow.


The structural system of the world seems to be divided into tribes or kingdom/queendoms depending on the area. While the history of the regions was thoroughly explained throughout the book, I wish that the political organizations were more clear. It was not until halfway through the book that you get a full background on the previous rulers which helped establish how the land was governed.


There are hints to some form of possible magic throughout the book, but besides the fictional setting, it is hard to classify this as a fantasy book.



Themes


There is a lot of commentaries that can be had from this book. It is stated in the afterward that this is a piece that reflects the secular autocracy and religious extremism of the author's homeland. While I may not be able to comment on these reflections, here are some of the discussions I took away from the book.


The religious commentary was more or less blatantly obvious in the book. Religion is a big factor in the lives of the people of the Known World, and it is interesting to see the reality of their religion as being not what they think it is. There was also a point made, I think, about forced conversion as it talked about people who forced their ideas on people whose land they entered without invitation.


One interesting discussion that came up was when the character Deesrai mentioned to her sister that their lives were always going to end in tragedy, so it was better to be the villain than to be the victim. I think that this is a very interesting subject to debate.



Characters


As I said previously, there is no static POV as we follow a rather large myriad of characters. While some may say this could be a downfall as it prevents you from connecting with the characters, I thought that all the characters were fleshed out enough (considering the length of the book), and were interesting to read about.


For example, we had conjoined twins who were rulers known as the Sovereign. I've never read anything that included conjoined twins, and while I don't know what that would entail biologically, I thought that it brought something different to the table.


The only thing I would say didn't fully work was the fact that because the POVs were so inconsistent, it would be a while before you found yourself reading about a particular character again. Due to this, I would have to pause for a minute to remember where their story last left off.



Concluding Thoughts


I thought that this was a meticulously and wonderfully crafted novel that is perfect for fans looking for something more on the side of The Silmarillion. If you like very low fantasy settings, and also happen to like historical accounts, then this may be perfect for you. If you go into this expecting something extremely plot-driven and full of action, then you might want to adjust your expectations or stay away entirely.


Overall though, I would give this a solid 4.5 out of 5.

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