Another addition to the ever-growing Swords & Sorcery genre, this is a tale not to be passed by. Oh, all the expected elements are there, they just aren’t quite what one is expecting. We have our warrior, Andrasta, who is a a well-muscled, highly trained half-breed woman with almost no sense of humor. We have our near useless (at the beginning) comic relief – Rondel. He use to be a great bard and something of a fop. However, he starts this story off mutilated and having spent too many years in prison. These two make an unlikely alliance, and the adventuring begins with an escape!
Every time I thought this book would take a turn and head down the often-trod trail of mediocrity, it surprised me. Are there maidens who need rescuing? Well, yes but they are also willing to stab your eyes out if you turn out to be with the bad guys. Is there an untried young magician in the group? Well, yes but Andrasta puts him through some really tough & rough training before he has to do any actual battle. Is there a horrendously evil cult that everyone must try to escape from at the end? Well yes, and not everyone makes it.
Plus, there is all this other great stuff going on in the book. Like Andrasta has his huge chip on her shoulder that only she can knock down. But until she is ready to do that, she will just pound Rondel into some semblance of a fighter. There’s this horrible place called the Blood Forest. Yeah, it’s creepy and hungry, evil things lurk with in it. Of course I want our heroes to have to enter it! So, that was awesome, twice over because they had to go through the forest twice.
Our two main characters had excellent story arcs for a first book. We met them and then they slowly changed through out the book. Rondel is the more compassionate of the two and he rubs off on Andrasta, even as she teaches him to use the sword and make shim run laps to build up his endurance. Then the author takes it one step further and has a few of our side characters also grow and change through out the book. I think I will miss two of our side characters, as I don’t expect them to be in the next book. On occasion, there is a minor character that happens by at the right time who provides critical info to the heroes. While I understand this is done to help move the plot forward, and it was decently done, it was also obvious that was the character’s entire point. If I have to have a criticism about this book, that would be my tiny, little one right there.
By the end of the book, we have plenty of murder and mayhem because the Cult of Sutek is full of evil people who need to die. Hopefully, the good guys got them all. While there is plenty of death, it is not particularly gory and the author doesn’t linger of spilled guts or the blood rituals the cult practices. Enough details are given to make you want the cult dead but not so much that your lunch will revolt on you.
I am very much looking forward to the next installment in this series. Andrasta is a fascinating character because she pounds against boundaries until they break. Rondel has also earned a warm little place in my heart with his mix of practicality and compassion. The two make a great duo!
Narration: Jeffrey Kafer was a good pick for this book. Much of the tale is told through Rondel’s eyes and he Kafer makes a very good broken bard turned sellsword. He also had a plethora of female and male voices to fill out all the other characters. He had a good young male voice for the untried magician. The book does talk of accents from time to time, and I couldn’t discern much of an accent given to any of the characters, to that would be my only quibble. If the book hadn’t mentioned accents as much as it did, I wouldn’t have noticed the lack of them.