I was sent a complimentary copy of that novel by the author, Pauline M. Ross, who is, like me, one of contributors of the Fantasy Review Barn. I’ve known Pauline’s online persona for some time – we’ve befriended each other on Goodreads and Twitter. At one point I even proposed (and was rejected, alas ;p). Writing my review I tried hard to be as impartial as possible, all things considering, but I admit I might be a tad biased – I had the pleasure to be one of Pauline’s beta readers when she worked on that book. Just so you know.
Thousands of years after a magical catastrophe reshaped the world and pulled the moons out of alignment, the secret of magic has seemingly been lost. At the centre of the vast, forbidding Plains of Kallanash lies a land ruled by a secretive religion, whose people fight a never-ending war against the barbarians in the wilderness beyond the border. Amongst the nobility, double marriages are the norm.
Junior wife Mia always dreamed of attracting the attention of the dashing lead husband, but never dared to compete against her lively older sister. Hurst has spent ten frustrating years as junior husband, longing to test his skill with a sword in battle, longing for his beloved Mia to turn to him.
The mysterious death of Mia’s sister thrusts the marriage into turmoil. As Mia and Hurst struggle to adjust and find out what happened, they uncover sinister truths about the ruling religion. But the gods are unforgiving; even Mia’s innocent questions carry a terrible punishment. Hurst is prepared to risk everything to save her, even if it means taking up his sword against the barbarians, his own people, and the gods themselves.
What I liked:
The novel is narrated in the third voice limited, alternatively from the point of view of Mia and Hurst; I found them complementing each other nicely. It is a firm stand-alone, with a nice beginning and ending – no cliffhangers or such – even if the author assured me it is a part of a larger series (see the interview which will be published tomorrow).
The world build was very original, especially the idea of Karnings and those double marriages which provided a nice set of characters without too many twists and turns. An additional bonus: the Vahsi barbarians and warriors fighting the Karningholders after a time proved to be quite similar to their opponents (I really cannot say more here without including some major spoilers).
I liked the fact that both Mia and Hurst, a pair of the protagonists, were so physically imperfect. Tella and Jonnor, the other pair from the same Karninghold, while beautiful and handsome were also rather selfish, cruel and weak. Such a simple trick but it made my day as a reader. In my view especially Hurst (or rather “Most High Hurst dos Arrakas, Second Husband of Karning Dranish Turs Kan-forst”) was a likeable character, ‘a lion on the line, but a mouse in his own home’ as described by one of his companions. His slow-burning passion for Mia, a girl so obviously infatuated by Jonnor’s perfect form – the lithe and toned body, the beautiful face surrounded by curls- was moving. Then came a love triangle which, surprise, surprise, didn’t irritate me at all because it was…different as it included Dethin, the warlord extraordinaire, Once again I cannot say any more because it would be a spoiler but believe me, it bore no similarity to the much-hated, pink, three-headed beast.
However you know what I liked the best? Like in real life there were no baddies rotten to the core, no really. Or rather I should say the baddies were so three-dimensional and complicated that, after a while, you didn’t perceive them as completely negative characters.
Finally the cover art is simply great – I do love both the colours and the design.
What I didn’t like:
I sometimes wished the novel was a bit darker, especially its second part. I also wanted to know more about the technology (a sky ship but no sewing machines? or firearms?) and the whole system of beliefs, behind those Voices, the Nine and Slaves. Ok, maybe later in the series.
Who is to say that a good reviewer cannot turn into a good writer? A very strong debut, not without flaws but still. I wish Pauline all the best and many books to come, each one a bit better than the previous one. I certainly will read all of them.