Christmas gave me a great opportunity to throw a lot of books on my wishlist that I hadn’t bought for myself. And I’ve had a chance to read through some of them over the holidays, so this will start off a mini-series of book review posts!
First up: the first book of the Heirs of Alexandria series. This series is both alternate history and fantasy, but doesn’t actually cover the “alternate history” itself – that’s in the far past, and the more significant difference in this alternate universe is that magic both exists and is widely used in both pagan and Christian circles. Demonic possession is a definite problem; “neutral” spirit-creatures like water elementals also exist, and are befriended by pagan and Christian alike. (Shades of Narnia, I’m thinking. Only with more demons and less allegory.)
I’m not sufficiently well-versed in 1500s European history to tell what pieces of the plot are lifted from historical events that actually took place and which are being made up as part of the alternate history elements, so I won’t address that issue. I will say that I was pleased to note that rather than a tale of how the “evil Christians” are oppressing the “noble pagans” the plot deals with interfaith (and intrafaith) rivalries in a very human manner. Politics abounds and religious differences are one facet of political maneuvering; the religiously zealous are shown in several lights, not just the “evil fanatic” one. (Though there definitely is an evil fanatic guy.) None of the characterizations screamed “author preaching” – and while I suspect a bit of modern-day mores snuck in, they were cleverly disguised in the plot with plausible reasons or dialogue weaving them into the historical setting, which is doubleplusgood in my opinion.
(I really hate it when an author writes a story and then breaks the whole flow of it in order to preach about how evilbad something is to the audience, or has a historical character suddenly come down with a random case of Anachronistic Enlightenment. I’m glad Lackey has co-authors for this series because I’m pretty sure they’re the ones tweaking the story to include her moralizing in a non-disruptive fashion: the woman has lost some of her skill at weaving the preaching organically into the story in her advancing age. Or she’s worried that an outraged liberal mob will descend upon her reputation and rip it to shreds for not being sufficiently PC because she dares to write a lot of “heteronormative” romance. They’re pretty stupid so they don’t notice anything more subtle than blatant choir-preaching.)
Romantic entanglements are a big part of the plot of this book, which doesn’t surprise me since I know Lackey has been producing a lot of straight-up romance-in-fantasy-setting lately (not that I blame her, it’s easy money) and the work I’ve read of Freer’s is also romance-oriented, though balanced with more “action-y” plot elements. Oddly enough, I don’t think I’ve read any of Flint’s work yet except possibly in anthology, so I’ll probably be nibbling on the 163x series soon. If it’s filled with romance plots, too, I’m going to have to go read some Kratman or something just to inoculate myself against the stuff.
I liked it; there’s a handful of quite interesting older secondary characters as well as the teenaged protagonists of The Shadow of the Lion. In addition to the romance aspects (many of which aren’t actually “romanticized” except for one instance of SoulMateAtFirstSight that provides some dramatic tension and isn’t – quite – resolved by the end of the book) there’s a definite theme of “coming of age.” The demonic warfare part is looking like a series-running overplot – ie, this particular battle-by-proxy was won but the “cold war” will go on and drive the rest of the books in the series. Which I’ve added to my birthday wishlist, now!
I’ll even make a stab at a summary of sorts.
Setting: Well-thought-out and integral to the plot. 5 of 5
Plot: Entertaining but not unique, powerful, or impossible to put down. 4 of 5
Characterizations: Well-rounded and for the most part three-dimensional. Cliche characters dealt with in a satisfying manner. 4 of 5
Ending: Cohesive storyline brought to a suitable close – the book could stand on its own. Sufficient overarching plotlines left open to provide plenty of in-universe space for more stories featuring struggles against the Big Bad Demon. 5 of 5
Who lives in Lithuania.
Man, Eastern Europe just can’t catch a break, can it?