||An excellent novel, with a good story,
extremely well developed characters, and a rich world to inhabit. My
only complaints come from the constant back-and-forth movements of the
characters, which didn't seem to be necessary, as if there were only two
or three real places in this world, which I know is not true.
There is a huge backstory to this novel,
which is very well delivered. Two hundred years ago, the Sisterhood took
over governing the lands of Medalon, and freed it of the Harshini, who
are magical creatures created by the gods. The sisterhood preaches
atheism, and rules through morality. Of course, with humans, this can
only last so long. In the north, the realm of Karien bows to a single
god, Xaphista. In the south, the Hythrun worship the old Harshini gods.
But although the sisterhood has eradicated all pagan areas within its
borders, there are still pagan believers, and their numbers are growing
steadily. The Kariens demand another Purge, while Medalon constantly
battles its southern borders.
What we learn through the story is that
the pagan gods are real, but they have retreated from the world, like
the Harshini, until the time is right for them to return. In that time,
however, an incidental god, Xaphista, has gained so many believers that
he has become as strong as the true elemental gods, and he wants to rule
them. So the gods hatched a plan. The Harshini were created as
pacifists, and are incapable of thinking about harming others, so they
would never turn against their gods. Humans, of course, are full of
violence, but have no magic. Hybrids, half-Harshini, half-human, on the
other hand, are very dangerous, as they have magic and are capable of
violence. Brak is one of these. He caught his great leader about to kill
a human woman the leader had just raped. The leader had gone insane at what he
had done, even though it was the gods' plan, and Brak killed him before
he knew it was his beloved leader.
The child turns out to be the main
character R'shiel. Orphaned at birth, she was taken in by Joyhinia, one
of the Quorum members of the Sisterhood. R'shiel's origin was of course
unknown. The character manipulations and interactions are complex, which
is a delight. Suffice it to say that Joyhinia and R'shiel don't get
along very well, even though R'shiel was the daughter Joyhinia always
wanted. She doesn't get along with her son, Tarja, at all, though
R'shiel completely adores her older half-brother. Joyhinia manages to
alienate both of them, so that by the time she is crowned as First
Sister, after manipulating to destroy and impeach the previous one, both
R'shiel and Tarja have disappeared.
Tarja, an honored member of the
Defenders, has always been rather lenient on the pagans. Others of his
order hold similar views, which is why the pagan population is rising in
numbers. When he discovers a small outpost, which he calls Treason Keep,
that houses a pagan orphanage, he learns of R'shiel's true parentage,
and the plot to sent R'shiel to the Kariens. For Xaphista knows that
R'shiel is the Demon Child, and is determined to use her to his own
purposes. The other gods, of course, want R'shiel to kill Xaphista.
R'shiel and Tarja travel the lands, and
end up in league with the pagan worshipers, who are being hunted down by
the Defenders under Joyhinia's rule. Tarja unwittingly learns more about
the pagan gods than he ever knew, even coming face-to-face with a
dragon, which are Harshini demons merged together, and then he meets a
Harshini, thought to be long extinct.
Tarja is caught in a trap, and brought
back to the Citadel. R'shiel goes back of her own accord, to confront
Joyhinia. Both escape, but are caught again, then sent to the prison
city. All the back-and-forth movement makes me wonder how many
interesting locales actually exist. I didn't see the purpose in any of
Early in the book, Tarja humiliates a
Defender named Loclon. As a result of the action that caused the
humiliation (killing a fellow Defender), he is sent to become a prison
guard. He loathes Tarja and R'shiel, and makes them suffer as much as
possible when he is in their care, including raping R'shiel repeatedly.
She makes him even more angry by not crying out, however.
A lot of time is spent in the prison
town, and I wonder why Tarja didn't try to escape earlier. He waits
months, until a riot among the miners distracts a large number of
guards. R'shiel independently decides to escape at the same time, but is
caught, and brought to Loclon. When he starts to rape her again, she
draws upon magic she didn't know she had to make him suffer. Tarja and
the former First Sister storm in to rescue her, and she stops, letting
Throughout, the pagan rebels think
Tarja and R'shiel betrayed them, and the Defenders know Tarja betrayed
them, though many more defected after he did, especially after hearing
some of Joyhinia's orders. Tarja escapes the noose, but R'shiel is taken
to the Kariens after all, by the pagans. She is tortured because she has
Harshini blood, but is able to call upon her magic again to break the
staff of Xaphista, burning the Karien ship. It wasn't clear to me why
the Karien ship was heading downriver, if it was going back to Karien.
It has been established that Karien is upriver, so why would they be
going the other way?
R'shiel plan their last stand, with Dace, god of Thieves, fully enjoying
himself. The Defenders surround the city, but Tarja plans a distraction,
though he is betrayed by the courtesan R'shiel had befriended, and is
captured. The entire pagan army is captured, and is confronted by
Joyhinia. When the head Defender Jenga finally refuses an order, to kill
all the pagans in the holding pen, she flies into a rage and spears
R'shiel. This, in my view, is the weakest part of the plot. All
throughout, Tarja is shown as being an incredible fighter, able to
defeat good swordsmen even with his bare hands. Yet Joyhinia surprises
him with a blade, so that R'shiel, of all people, leaps into his way and
takes the sword strike instead? I don't believe it for a moment.
But so the book ends, with Brak leading
an allegiance of Hythrun people to Tarja, just a little too late, the
gods have taken R'shiel to heal her (presumably), Dace has stolen
Joyhinia's personality (which is hilarious) so she is ignorant of
everything in the world, and the Kariens will invade once they learn
their envoy and a priest of Xaphista have been killed.
I thoroughly enjoyed most of this
novel, and look forward to the second part of the trilogy.