The Sapphire Altar (The Vagrant Gods #2) by David Dalglish
Publication Date: January 10th, 2023
David Dalglish returns with yet another epic installment in his The Vagrant Gods series. After finding myself captivated by The Bladed Faith last year, I'd been anxiously awaiting the return to this intense world Dalglish has created, and it did not disappoint. Please note that there will be spoilers for The Bladed Faith in this review, so if you have not read that one and you plan to, you might want to read that review first or simply proceed with caution! There will be no spoilers for The Sapphire Altar, and for that reason–as is usually the case–I will be keeping some of my discussion a bit brief on details so as to avoid spoiling anything.
Paperback. 544 pages.
About The Sapphire Altar:
"In this epic fantasy from a bestselling author, a usurped prince must master the magic of shadows in order to reclaim his kingdom and his people.
Cyrus wants out. Trained to be an assassin in order to oust the invading Empire from his kingdom, Cyrus is now worried the price of his vengeance is too high. His old master has been keeping too many secrets to be trusted. And the mask he wears to hide his true identity and become the legendary "Vagrant" has started whispering to him in the dark. But the fight isn't over and the Empire has sent its full force to bear upon Cyrus's floundering revolution. He'll have to decide once and for all whether to become the thing he fears or lose the country he loves."
The Sapphire Altar picks up not long after the tumultuous events of The Bladed Faith, and it was easy to jump right back into this world. Also, for those of your who, like me, often struggle to remember some of the–ahem–finer details of books in series they read, Dalglish is a gem of a human being and includes a wonderful recap of the first book to get it all fresh and ready in your mind. We start at a point where Cyrus has realized that he has been betrayed by Thorda and is struggling to determine where his place should be as the Vagrant. Thanet has now been fully infiltrated by the Everlorn Empire and the rebellion that Cyrus is a part of has many new (and old) obstacles to deal with in order to achieve this goal.
One of the things that I have most loved about this series is Dalglish's ability to craft truly captivating characters. All of the characters feel exceptionally realistic in how they are portrayed, with full fleshed personalities and individual traits and motivations, and they also therefore have many grey qualities about them that made them feel more like real people with real good and bad qualities. There is no perfection here. Cyrus has so much depth to his personality, desires, and motivations, and we see him struggle constantly with all the different sides pulling at him. This made him feel like a very relatable character who I could really empathize with and get behind (albeit we have very different issues to deal with, but I think you know what I mean).
We also get to focus on many more characters than just Cyrus in this installment, including (but not limited to) Mari, Stasia, Arn, Rayan, Keles, and more, I was thrilled at all the added depth this created. Stasia and Mari are two of my favorite sisters in fantasy at this point and I loved following along their arcs in this sequel. Both Stasia and Mari face some pretty enormous revelations and have to come to terms with what their futures holds for them, some of it good and some of it more difficult to deal with. I am really eager to see what's next for them in the next book. Keles was also a character that I didn't expect to connect with all that much and it felt like a relatively slow start with her chapters, but as the story progressed I found myself getting more and more intrigued by her role and seeing how it would play into the greater plot. And although we don't get a perspective from Thorda, I continue to find him an immensely complex and interesting character and I can't really predict anything about him.
I like that the overall world seems to be slowly growing in scope with this second installment, though I do still hope that we get to see even more of the world in the next book. I have really enjoyed moments where get to learn more about other areas int his world and their history, as well as learning more about Thanet's history and everything that has happened both within and surrounding it. Religion naturally plays a large role in this book due to the influence and incorporation of the gods, and I have been fascinated by how Dalglish has crafted this entire setup. There is a lot of complexity at play that I won't even attempt to explain in a brief review, but I do love that there is always something new to surprise me, as we are constantly learning more about the history of the gods and their various roles.
Lastly, I just want to touch on Dalglish's writing style and the pacing of the book, both of which were excellently done. Dalglish has a very straightforward yet careful writing style that makes the story flow well and makes it easy to follow along. The pacing felt very similar to the pacing of The Bladed Faith, where things start of a little slower with some action thrown in, but as we got to the middle half of the book and beyond things really began to take off. We get plenty of scenes of introspection from characters and relationship-building between characters, and there are also plenty of actions scenes and more intense moments that really kept me hooked. And as someone who often struggles with action scenes and finding them boring, I really enjoyed these ones and actually found myself paying attention to all the finer details included.
There are a lot of fantasy books out there that focus on rebellions and uprisings against harsh rule or wars fought over gods, but The Vagrant Gods has really stood out to me and has consistently brought an enrapturing story with alluring characters and a plot that has fully ensnared me. Somehow, Dalglish makes this premise fresh and exciting, and I cannot wait to see how the story will continue in the next book. Overall, I've given The Sapphire Altar 4.5 stars!