Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
This novel starts with what feels like a weak plot but it aggregates in substance as the story develops. Initially there is a disconcerting immaturity which suddenly grows up into a rich skein of exciting narrative well established within the swords and sorcery tradition. In many ways this book could be a gentle initiation into the genre for teenage readers, but then I am no publisher nor judge of modern youth. The tale possesses the formula that could create a loyal fan base for the future so perseverance is everything.
Vicky Garlick admits to dabble in swordplay and clearly takes pleasure in recounting the fighting, the battles and the manner in which the enemy mingual warriors, born of magic, are despatched by our warrior heroes. The real sorcery comes later in the book, but here as well she seeks to recount the mystical control of the four elements – air, earth, fire and water – with a similar attention to detail. So there is much good fun to be had.
Vala is a soldier, a captain even in the service of King Asmera of Eriba. This kingdom and its allies are much troubled by incursions of the hated mingual, warriors created and controlled by the evil sorceress, Baelana. With her sister Sara, Vala is also guardian to the orphaned, foundling twins Kirae and Tom. They have just reached the age of majority so need to choose what path they will follow in life. Kirae wants to be like Vala but Tom is less sure. However, they both volunteer for martial training. What they don’t know is who their birth parents are, but this is a nice surprise for later on.
The main course of the book is with Vala chasing the errant mingual the length and breadth of the land to create space in which the twins can learn the skill of the sword and the craft of magic. Inevitably their paths cross at the very exciting denouement.
Magic has been largely forgotten by the mainstream of society among the Kingdoms of Burgun, so when Baelana commences her hateful attacks the established monarchies have little means other than the courage of their warriors to combat her and her legions. To extend her influence Baelana develops a political appeal with which she suborns some of the local population. This creates further dimensions to the struggle driving a wedge between her opponents. It also gives her access to more material with which to generate mingual warriors at a faster pace than previously. This requires the Kingdoms to identify and relearn the magic appropriate to combatting this wily threat.
Amongst all this swords and sorcery the gods are also at play, ancient bloodlines reactivated with shape-shifting from human to dragon and then back again.
As the tale develops all the ingredients for an exciting tale come into play. We learn about the climate, the landscape and the complexity of human nature. The enthusiasm of the writer for her characters overcomes any remaining weak aspects in the tale. These are rapidly diminished as the story gets into its stride. There is no doubt that any sequels will be stronger and an exciting read from cover to cover.