Next up: “The Sentinel Mage” by Emily Gee
The first book in a trilogy. I haven’t yet read the others, but I plan to!
A very long time ago, a mage cast a revenge curse upon the Seven Kingdoms. The curse was extremely powerful, but did not take effect immediately. Instead, it lay quiescent, tied to the land, until finally it has started to awaken… and so our story starts. The curse has begun to spread across the land, rising in the east like the sun and moving west across the land. Any who drink water that has touched the cursed land become violent and crazed, horribly murdering any living thing they find.
The Sentinels, elite mages who live in the Allied Kingdom, have kept watch for the rise of the curse, and now they approach the king of Osgaard, whose son is the key to breaking the curse. But the people of Osgaard, along with the rest of the Seven Kingdoms, revile magic-users. Prince Harkeld is on edge and uncomfortable with the Sentinel Mages, and his own witch heritage. And the Sentinel Mages have a hard road in front of them, too. They must protect Harkeld from assassins and the curse’s magical protections, even though the prince hates them and doesn’t trust them. So the shapeshifting Sentinel Mages must break one of their moral laws– to never take the form of another human– to take on the guise of a non-witch bodyguard who can remain close to Harkeld without compromising their mission.
Innis is the youngest of the Sentinel Mages, but she is also their most powerful shapeshifter, and so she takes on most of the burden of bodyguard duty. However, it is dangerous to go for very long in forms other than your own. On top of that, Innis begins to share strange dreams with the Prince. It seems the quest to break the curse will risk Innis’s life, sanity, and heart.
The plot of this series seems straight out of an RPG video game, or maybe a D&D campaign– the characters need to go on a quest to find three special locations and perform a rite at each, to break a curse that threatens the world, all the while battling both normal and supernatural threats. But even though the plot is quintessential sword & sorcery fantasy, it executes it well. I still enjoyed the story and, after the first book, I still want to read the rest of the trilogy. There’s something to be said for the comfort of a familiar story structure done well.
I don’t think the characters are very striking; none of them really stick out as favorites, and the only ones I hate are the ones you’re obviously supposed to hate. I suppose I found the characters in the princess’s side-plot the most compelling. The princess herself, her handmaiden, and her bodyguard. Their situations and emotions are really the most complicated. Harkeld tries to be complex but mostly just manages whiny. Innis is strong and capable, but also tries (and succeeds) to be a wallflower. These are completely legitimate characterizations, especially for the start of a series. I am 100% certain they will grow as the story progresses, but right now they aren’t the ones I’m most interested in.
Not a mind-blowing start to a series, but enjoyable all the same.
Rape (arranged marriage), and a fair amount of violence.