Completed 7/24/2022, Reviewed 7/24/2022
I had a mixed reaction to this book. I enjoyed having two kick-ass women fighting injustice, but there was something off about the composition. It felt like it was a collection of short stories woven together after the fact and made into a novel. While that’s not always bad, it didn’t feel seamless. I have to give props to Lackey though, she wrote a bold feminist fantasy novel in the 80’s. I read this book because I’m doing a Grand Master challenge based around Lackey. She won the honor last year, and on World Without End’s site, it’s become a tradition to have a challenge based on the honoree from the previous year.
This book begins with a disclaimer that the characters were introduced in a story that was part of an anthology. However, it picks up without feeling like you missed much. Tarma and Kethry are on the road. Tarma’s clan was annihilated. The is a master warrior, training at night with the spirits of past master warriors of her clan. Kethry is on the run from being sold into wedlock by her own brother to a sleaze with a penchant for little girls. After running away, she trains in magic at special school. Now adults, the two have met up and are traveling together, righting the wrongs done to women. They journey begins with traveling to Kethry’s home where she confronts her brother and husband. Then travel to Tarma’s home where she tries to claim her clan’s inheritance. Eventually they’re led to a demon who rapes, tortures, and sacrifices young women in an effort to make himself a god.
The main characters are both pretty well done. Tarma is asexual, consecrated to her clan’s goddess. She has become bonded with Kethry, even though she is not of the same clan or country. This bond is so intense, they are psychically linked. Both women are very strong and very powerful, one as warrior, one as mage. But they still have doubts and arguments and very human emotions. Many of the other characters are also well done, coming across as human and not just cardboard side characters. Even the demon at the end is a little more complex than your average bad guy.
I really like Lackey’s prose. It reads very well, although it can get a little overly flowery at times. Her world building is also good. This takes place in the Valdemar universe, the same one as the Last Herald-Mage series, featuring Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise, and Magic’s Price, which I read a few years back. The magic is consistent, yet surprising. I particularly liked the sword called Need that couldn’t be used against women but gave the female wielder superpowers. It gets them into a crazy situation when a bad man is turned into a woman.
I also liked that Lackey regularly slips healthy queer relationships into the story. And having an asexual main character is also quite innovative, especially for nearly forty years ago. I was pretty disturbed by how badly the bad guy who is turned into a woman reacts to his transformation. But I think that was the point, showing the misogynistic battle against which Tarma and Kethry must fight.
Despite the positives, I give this book three stars out of five. It just felt like a series of stories woven together. It was hard to continue after finishing one story line because it felt very final. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it simply was a collection of novellas with well defined beginnings and ends. I’m still going to read the next two in the series, having developed an appreciation of the two main characters. I’m just hoping they are a little more cohesive within themselves.