This highly imaginative fantasy novel develops in unexpected ways taking what seems to be a fairly typical quest by a ragtag quartet and wending the plot into depths from which there’s possibly no return. Both a strength and weakness to the novel is the original quest, saving the kingdom from invading monstrous arthropods, being so sidelined that resolution sits off the horizon. One can only assume that there are planned sequels. Or the entire quest was a red herring, which might yet be the case even with subsequent chapters in this saga.
The original quartet [mage and warrior brothers, a female slave, and warrior-priest religious zealot] are turned out of a kingdom’s prison to regain honor by clearing the land of a growing menace. Their back stories are left under-explored with the exception of the slave. Their quest sends them in the direction of the deadly valley of insects whence the scourge emerged. They also find themselves in areas influenced by two separate mysterious but powerful people: Xan the ranger and Ink the dark wizard. Between these two influences, the quartet ricochet pulling them further from their original quest.
These two titular characters, Xan and Ink, become the focus of the novel, if not the main characters. Again, this calls into question whether the quartet was also a red herring. Yet, these two characters remain enigmatic despite becoming focal. Their motives and histories never become clear to the page.
The great pleasure of the book is in rich, organic descriptions that verge on poetic.
Meanwhile, the depth of detail in erotic scenes worthy of smut zines is not for the prudish. Nor are they critical to the plot.