Farrell set his tale in Nessantico, the capital city and the seat of power of a vast empire known as the Holdings. Ruling over that dominion is the Kraljica, Marguerite ca'Ludovici, whose reign has brought a generation of relative pacification which has earned her the title of Creator of Peace. As the Jubilee Celebration of her prosperous reign approaches, enemies and rivals angered by the long years characterized with the Kraljica's complacency begin to plot her demise. Nessantico is also the principal seat of the Concénzia Faith. Its head, Archigos Dhosti ca'Millac, is beset by religious fundamentalists bent on deposing him and installing a man who won't mind culling the Holdings of the followers of other creeds. As both the secular and religious affairs of Nessantico appear to be on the brink of chaos, Ana cu'Seranta, a young acolyte of the Concénzia Faith, is thrust into the escalating conflict. Can those three find a way to save the city, the empire, and the Concénzia Faith?
The worldbuilding is an important aspect of A Magic of Twilight. Nessantico is a blend of Renaissance France, Italy and Austria. If you're familiar with the epoch and have visited those countries, various things throughout the book will ring a bell. In addition, this novel appears to have a few more layers than what can be glimpsed at face value. As the opening chapter of a series, A Magic of Twilight sets the groundwork for what is to come. The subsequent volumes will tell us if there is indeed more than meets the eye.
I'm particularly interested in the magic system. Not because it's terribly original, but because I like the way the author created societies which view the manipulation of magic in different fashions. Within the Holdings, magic is controlled by the Concénzia Faith. They are the only one allowed to manipulate what is known as the Ilmodo. They persecute the Numetodo, who have a more scientific approach to magic. Through Mahri we learn that the inhabitants of the distant Westlands channel the invisible energy of the Second World in ways that both the Numetodo and their persecutors are unaware of.
Similar to Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, A Magic of Twilight is divided into portions showcasing various POV characters, not old fashioned chapters. There are ten "main" POV characters. At first, I feared that it would be a bit much, yet it works well for the most part. On the downside, jumping from one POV to the next makes for relatively short "chapters" and occasionally breaks the rhythm of the book. Some characters are well-drawn, while others leave a little to be desired. Chief among those was Jan ca'Vörl, who never rises beyond the clichéd, power-hungry monarch. I would have liked to learn more about Karl ci'Vliomani, the Numetodo envoy from the Isle of Paeti, but I get the feeling that he will play a larger role in the upcoming sequels.
Overall, S. L. Farrell weaves his storylines into a compelling tale. It is evident that there is a lot more to come, but A Magic of Twilight is nevertheless a self-contained tale. I was pleased to see that the author didn't shy away from the religious aspect, and the Concénzia Faith was a nice break from the religion vs magic staple of the genre.
Some readers might feel cheated by the ending, however. Not because of any shortcomings on Farrell's part, for he is simply using our own expectations to misdirect us. Still, his curve ball à la Robin Hobb in Assassin's Quest at the end might not satisfy everyone.
A Magic of Twilight is a solid effort which should appeal to most fans of epic fantasy. In terms of style, for no reason that I can explain, I found Farrell's style similar to that of Robin Hobb, Tad Williams and, to a lesser extent, C. S. Friedman.
The final verdict: 7.5/10