Note: I received a free galley of this book sponsored by Masquerade Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Secure in his position as the Prince-warlock’s son, seventeen-year-old Basil is content with his solitary life of study and magic. He has a comfortable set of rooms in his father’s tower, he has his books and scrolls, and he is perfectly happy. Until the Warlockry Council summons him, and their demands sets his whole, safe existence tottering. Scared and unsure, he decides to run, and takes the first ship out of town. On board he meets Yarwan, the handsome midshipman, who awakens feelings he never knew existed.
Maud of the M’Brannoe, at eighteen already a mighty warrioress, is about to graduate as a Lioness, a special duty officer answering to the Kell Queen and no one else. The Prince-warlock asks her to fetch a certain boy from a pirate town, who could be double for his son. On their way back, someone sabotages their airship and the two find themselves marooned in an ill-reputed forest. Together, the young lioness and Jurgis the lookalike battle their way to the coast and a ship home, while finding solace in each other’s arms.
Then the four young people meet, and Basil learns of a spell that might help him. Only the spell’s creator, the infamous Arrangh Warlock, disappeared nearly a century ago. When the four young people decide to go looking for him, they start on a path leading to an old war and unsolved mysteries that will change the world. Or kill them.
A spirited fantasy story of high adventure and romantic love in a world where both magic and early modern technology flourish. (Summary via Masquerade Tours)
As someone who has incredibly mixed feelings about fantasy, I found many parts of this book refreshingly different and more interesting than your typical, run of the mill fantasy tale. On the other hand, I also had a few issues with the way the content was presented. So let’s get to the good stuff!
I loved how different this book was from all the fantasy books I’ve read before. There weren’t elves and wizards and such; instead, there were warrioresses called by the ranks of “lioness” or “tigress” or “leopardess,” along with warlocks and singers flying on carpets. Maud was a wonderful character–incredibly strong and brave, but still young and inexperienced on the battlefield. She and Jurgis, the boy she was sent to retrieve on her first mission, balance each other well, as Jurgis refuses to let Maud simply take care of him (caveats about this below). Their journey with Basil and Yarwan takes many unexpected turns to some pretty cool settings, including several sea voyages, abandoned towers, a creepy forest, and dilapidated cities.
The story does sometimes become almost video-game-esque, as the “side quests” are fairly obviously set forth. The villain was also pretty obvious, in my opinion, so the “big reveal” didn’t have too much punch. Although most of the characters were interesting and their relationships are believable (again, see caveat below), it did become a little irritating that the characters constantly referred to each other by pet names, even in the narration. [A quick side note for those who are squeamish about such things: There is a fair amount of cursing and implied sexual encounters, both heterosexual and homosexual.]
Now, for my biggest problem with this book: the gender relations. The story starts by focusing on Maud, a sexually voracious warrioress, and then only focuses on the male characters as soon as they are introduced. The only times Maud becomes the center of the story after that is when the story focuses on the gender relations in Kell, where Maud is from. Switching the male/female dichotomy (women in Kell are the fighters who run the government; men are weak, to be protected and cherished) seems a bit forced and after a while becomes rather offensive. Women talked men into a decline–really? Their success broke men’s spirits–so women should refuse to succeed at all for fear of discouraging men? Sure, writers creating their own world can create things in whatever way they choose, but at times this overt role switching seemed to demean the real struggles that real women have faced and sometimes still face. I found this book to be deeply flawed in the way the genders were approached.
On the whole, this book was a mixed bag for me. There is some good stuff here, some original ideas that keep it from being just like every other fantasy book I’ve ever read, but the book had too many flaws for me to enjoy it wholeheartedly.
Rating: Good but Forgettable (3 stars)