While I quietly disappear under a cairn of RL work, my frequent collaborator Dawn has kindly stepped in to write some guest reviews for this blog. Here’s the first! -Ramona
Format/Publisher/Year: Paperback (656 pages) and ebook (263 pages), Blind Eye Books, 2008.
Warnings (highlight to read): Infidelity (both of the main characters are married to women) and Polyamory (one of the main characters is married to a woman who is also married to his two brothers), and attempted rape.
From the Blurb
In the ancient kingdom of Marhavad, noblemen dominate the lower castes, wielding mystic weapons, known as shartas, against any who oppose them. For generations the rule of Marhavad’s kings has been absolute. But now the line of succession is divided, and whispers of revolution are heard in even the royal palace.
Keshan Adaru, an outspoken man of unearthly charms, welcomes these changes. All his life he has foreseen an uprising that will shatter the castes and end the tyranny of the old laws. His visions have driven him but now, at the brink of their fulfillment, he finds himself obsessed with Prince Jandu Paran– a man whose entire family must be destroyed if the kingdom is to be freed. [read full blurb]
This book immediately sets itself apart from the crowd by not being a typical Eurocentric fantasy about a bunch of white dudes on a quest. Instead it is inspired by elements from the ancient Indian epic the Mahābhārata and concerns itself with the unjust nature of caste systems. Just as the setting is quite atypical, so too is the magic system of Marhavad. The ruling Triya caste are able to summon demons from their realm and pull them into the human world to be used as spells called shartas (tools to make energy weapons or healing spells). The Triya pride themselves on their ability to invoke shartas, but those belonging to a lower caste are forbidden from learning how to wield shartas, which are the sole province of the warrior kings.
Keshan Adaru is one who would like to see this law overturned, along with many other facets of Marhavad’s caste system. Unfortunately, this does not stop Keshan from falling in lust at first sight with the spoiled prince Jandu Paran, who sees no reason why the status quo should change and is in favour of his own brother Yudar taking the throne. Not only are they on opposite sides of a potentially bloody revolution, homosexuality carries the death penalty if their affair is discovered.
While this setting and plot should have kept me enthralled, this story did have a few problems. Primarily, this book suffers from a lot of telling instead of showing. The reader is constantly told how much Jandu has changed midway through the book, but we are rarely shown how he is acting differently. After a while, I began to wonder if he had at all.
Amara also occasionally uses jarringly modern dialogue for her supposedly ancient fantasy setting. A character responds with a sarcastic “whatever”, tells a concerned party “no, I’m good” and calls someone a “prick”. This shatters the evocative atmosphere she has otherwise successfully built into the story.
While this book suffers from some anachronistic dialogue and occasionally clumsy execution, its unique setting, political intrigue, interesting twists and slow burn romance make it worth the read.