In David Anthony Durham's Acacia: The War with the Mein, the Mein are preparing for revenge on the Acacian kings that banished them centuries earlier. After the Acacian king is murdered, his four children scatter to the ends of the Known World, where each of them discover the harsh reality of the trade that supported their former wealth and comfort. Having lost everything they loved, they must then find a way to return to one another, begin to build a new world, and redeem the sins of their ancestors.
Small surprises in the first few chapters make clear that here is no guarantee of victory― or even survival― for anyone. Allegiances last as long as both parties find them useful. Betrayal may come from anywhere, at any time, and may then be reversed just as quickly. Power and privilege are fleeting. Trust and faith are the royal children's handicaps as well as their strengths.
Durham is gifted at finding the right details and selecting the most telling scenes― so much so that describing more of the plot would risk giving too much away. The language is richly descriptive, illuminating a world carefully constructed to include many different races and cultures sharing in a complex history. Durham also makes clear the agony of violence, and even when the characters are able to distance themselves by demonizing their enemies, the reader is aware of the individuals behind the lines. There is no glossy, glorified fighting here. It is brutal, chaotic and painful.
The great strength of the book comes from the meticulous portrayal of its characters. Each point of view lives on the page, each personality is allowed to speak honestly for themselves and experiences real internal conflict along with the external threats. Betrayers experience doubt and remorse, or find ways of justifying their actions to themselves and those around them. The fiercest warriors are horrified and haunted by their battles, but continue to fight. Loyalties are stretched and twisted again and again, motivations questioned, decisions weighed and regretted. Characters are never allowed to simply fall into stereotypical roles― each time this seems possible or even likely, the characters grow and change in unexpected directions. Private struggles mirror and illuminate external conflicts and drive the plot from one scene to the next, and each twist, once revealed, is both entirely in character and seemingly inevitable.
There are no good guys or bad guys in Acacia. No noble actions untainted by greed and violence, no victory without sacrifice, no redemption without some further betrayal, only the promise of further struggle and some small hope that the world may yet change for the better. The War with the Mein is a highly satisfying epic series opener, delivering a complete, well-crafted story while promising much struggle and adventure in the books to come.