Witches In Red by Barb Hendee
Sequel to The Mist-Torn Witches (here), this book finds our two heroines once again running the errands of Prince Anton, who really makes us wonder how he got to adulthood without these two to solve problems for him. In this case it isn’t even his problem, per se, but his father’s. Basically, Dad bought himself a set of silver mines in the north and they are now having problems: the guards are turning into massive wolf-like creatures and killing the miners, who quite naturally find this an untenable work situation. Dad suggests that, since Anton did so well dealing with the weird situation in his own home last book he might be able to solve this one. If he doesn’t, well, Daddy will set Anton’s evil brother on the situation. Anton turns to his two favourite clairvoyants, of course, else we’d have no book.
Since the leader of the soldiers at the mining camp might be (and it turns out he is) jealous of his rank et al, Celine and Amelie go disguised as ladies of the court, and healers (travelling healers in this world wear red cloaks, hence our title) and with only two guards, one of them Jaromir, Anton’s right-hand man and a possible crush for Amelie, if she’d only get over that little problem of wanting to be in charge of her life and relationship and let him be the boss of her.
One thing that they find at the mines is a family of Mondyalitko, the Roma-esque wanderers who our heroines found they were descended from in the last book. They recognize the girls as “mist-torn”, a term which remains unexplained for the second book in a row. These wanderers are trapped here by abusive contracts, like all the workers, but they and some of the soldiers are pretty much the only new characters who are given names, so we know they are important.
Can Celine spot the next victim of wolficization in time to save him? Can Amelie read the right person’s past and learn why this is happening before she ends up in danger from him? Will I recommend this book? Will I buy the next one in the series?
Yes/no, no, mildly, and probably not.
The weakness in this series is the common one in “realistic fantasy”; that subgenre that presents a second world that is much like our own, except that there’s magic. And the magic is not big and epic but small and tidy and following solid rules. And women cannot be warriors because they are small and weak. Amelie likes to wear trousers and carry a knife but in an emergency a man has to save her, and I find that really annoying. There’s more to it than that (there’s also an unnecessary romance subplot involving an alphole (an alpha-male/asshole)), but that’s what I can articulate here. And if that doesn’t bother you, you might find something to enjoy here, hence the mild recommendation. But you don’t want to start here; you want to start with The Mist-Torn Witches. And you may, if you wish, go on to the third book of the series, but I probably won’t be going with you.
Hunter’s Oath by Michelle West
Hunter’s Oath is the first book of the Sacred Hunt duology, a short (two-book) series that starts off West’s Essalieyan cycle, continued in the Sun Sword series and the House War. All things considered, for all that the story carries over to the other six (ten?) books, it’s quite a short series for West. Perhaps it was only supposed to be a short story?
Anyway, for quite some time this was my least favourite of her works, if I may praise with faint damns. Revisiting it shows that it has been visited, not by the suck fairy, but rather by the suck fairy’s opposite number. I quite liked it (at least, the first book of it. We shall see how the second book fairs when I get to it . . .)
Breodanir is a nation of hunters (or, more accurately, Hunters). The major estates are run by Hunter Lords, who have god-given gifts for hunting, including the ability to see through the senses of their dogs (god-gifts are a thing in this world, but the Breodanirs aren’t god-gifted as most people understand it. Indeed, mages and wise-men in the other parts of the world don’t believe in the Breodanir god at all); they hunt to feed their people. But every year a Sacred Hunt is called; all the Hunter Lords attend and they are hunted by their god (in order that it may practise the skills it lends to them the rest of the year). One of them dies, horribly, to sate the god. If the hunt isn’t called a particular year, there is famine the next year.
Of course, it isn’t necessareily a Hunter Lord who dies; to remind them of the common people they are supposed to help and help them not to abuse their abilities, each Hunter Lord is joined (via an emotional bond) with a common man who lives and works and hunts with them. These are their Huntbrothers, and one of them may die in the Sacred Hunt.
Stephen of Elseth, a former street kid, becomes Huntbrother to Gilliam of Elseth, son of the Lord of Elseth himself — until such time as Gilliam becomes Lord Elseth himself, of course. The two boys quarrel until they become friends, and eventually brothers.
Outside Breodanir, the seer Evayne walks a difficult road. With the help of allies, some more willing than others, she finds herself drawn into quarrels with demons, who are perhaps being summoned to the world by forces of human evil, or perhaps by something darker than even she imagines. In the woods of Breodanir she finds a girl best described as feral; in the ruins under Averalaan, the capital city of Essalieyan, she finds both something dark and also hope. And she leads the wild girl to Stephen and Gilliam, who will both be drawn into her struggle.
This is high fantasy indeed: gods, wizards and heroes mingle, and though there is black and white there are also shades of grey. It’s excellently-written and I enjoyed it immensely–more than I exepcted to, as I mentioned above. It is, however, only part one of two, and those two in turn lead into more books yet. They do not, therefore, end strongly. Individual plots may be resolved, but more are always waiting. Recommended highly.