The Seven Lands of Velspar put their faith in the Intercessors, a psychic priesthood responsible for the purification of the spirit. Where passion flares, they soothe its intent. Those who cannot be soothed, are cast out, their spirits destroyed by fire.
The Intercessors are mystics of the highest order, but Velspar’s ruling Skalens believe their power has grown too great.
Surviving the Intercessor’s murder plot against her family, Sybilla Ladain rises to power. The Skalens come together under the banner of her grief, bringing the practice of Intercession to its brutal, bloody end.
Yet victory brings Sybilla no peace. In time, she will have to face the people of Velspar, forced to live in a psychically alienated world, and a band of rebels led by an escaped Intercessor set on her annihilation.
The Way of Unity is a dark fantasy of religion, belief and loss. An almost meditative examination on the importance of individualism and what happens when your core beliefs are stripped away. And what one will do to get it back.
Following three main POV’s, with the odd chapter from a side character, we see all the sides of this religious conflict, from the ruler who abolishes the religion, to the rebels fighting to reclaim their right to their beliefs.
The religion and magic are mostly tethered together and are based on psychic connection, like an empath, and a connection to the earth. To block these “powers”, people are forced to wear what is called a meridian, a sort headband with a magic stone. Once the religion is abolished, everyone is required to wear one at all times, cutting themselves off from every one around them. The consequences, both good and bad, I’ll leave for you to discover for yourself.
The main POV is Sybilla, who at first feels like a hero as you read her chapters in the first quarter or so. What Sarah K. Balstrup does so well is that once we switch to the POVs of Zohar and Ambrose, brother and sister with secret ties to the rebellion, you see a whole other side to this struggle that puts Sybilla in a more villainous light. But then you’ll go back to Sybilla and change your mind again. What I’m trying to say is there is no clear cut hero or villain and that is half the fun of this story.
As you can probably tell, this novel is very character driven. There is not a whole lot of action, but when it shows up, it makes an impact. The world-building is given in bite sized pieces and is never info-dumpy. You’ll see some names of things and words you don’t understand at first and then context will make it clear as you move through the story. To some, it may be frustrating, but for me it was just the hook to keep me coming back for more. Balstrup has earned my trust to know everything will make sense when it needs to.
The Way of Unity is a unique dark fantasy full of emotion and fully realized characters. If you like your heroes and villains ambiguous and deep, Sarah K. Balstrup has got you covered. Asking deep questions without an agenda, this novel poses many questions with no clear answers. Beautiful prose, deep characters, a splash of romance and political scheming, what more could you want?