SPFBO7 Finalist Review
Tensions are running high throughout the city of D’Orsee. One of its more prominent citizens has vanished, possibly murdered; and everyone, from the well-to-do to the meanest criminal gangs, is wondering how to turn it to their advantage.
So after reading six of this year’s SPFBO contenders, I found myself considering three of them for my semi-finalist pick. Three extremely different books, which made it difficult to choose one as ‘the best’.
In order of reading, my contenders were:
Bitter Sky by Tim Stretton: This is a classically-written steampunk novel about morality in war, how quickly clear waters muddy and how the common people are used as pawns of the powerful, with a little demonic twist.
Empire’s Daughter by Marian L Thorpe: This low fantasy historical drama about a world where males and females have split into constrictive societal roles considers many complex questions as the two sexes come together to fend off invasion.
Daughter of Flood and Fury by Levi Jacobs: A YA revenge/coming of age story about a magically-gifted young woman driven to investigate and avenge her father’s death against a backdrop of religious dogma, global politics, corruption and, again, rigid expectations of men and women.
I enjoyed all three of these books in different ways, and their varying styles and content made it difficult to pick a ‘favourite’, in the way that asking anyone to name their favourite book with no context is just cruel and unusual.
So, in the end, I tried to just be objective about which one was the best-written book, taking into account the prose, worldbuilding, characters and plot.
And so, I came up with a winner.
My semi-finalist for SPFBO 7 is…
DUH DUH DUH…
Daughter of Flood and Fury by Levi Jacobs.
Congratulations and good luck in the next round to Levi, and I hope people will also check out Bitter Sky and Empire’s Daughter.
*I was assigned this book for SPFBO7*
The Lady of Kingdoms, although marked as #2 in a series, can be read as a standalone. It's part of the Watchers of Outremer series, and A Wind in the Wilderness, the first book, made it to the finalists of SPFBO6 (review here).
The Lady of Kingdoms primarily follows the story of Marta Bassarion, a Syrian girl who, from the beginning pages of the book, faces many unwanted circumstances. In a series of events, she is transported from the AD 600s to the 1100s, without her family, entirely alone. Things, of course, have drastically changed in the years she missed. She finds herself unable to speak the language of those in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, and is forced into servitude weaving. She is quite good at it, and is bought by the prestor of the Watchers, a group of people committed to doing good and righting wrongs. This Watcher has an artifact she recognizes as her father's, something called the Brassarion Lance, which is a magical spear that makes its holder unstoppable in battle.
Another character this book follows is Sybilla, sister of the king, with ambitions for the throne. She marries a warrior, hoping that between his might and her intelligence, they can make an unstoppable bid to be named the king's appointee for the throne when he dies. The king, Baldwin, is also called the Leper King. He's had leprosy since he was a boy, and I really enjoyed his character. He struggles between doing what is right, and what is necessary, whereas Sybilla has no qualms to do whatever is necessary to get what she wants. She is, in fact, quite ruthless. She manipulates others for her own ends.
Miles of Plancy is a squire to the prestor, and Marta and he strike up a friendship when she is brought into the Ibelin family. Marta falls for him, and he for her, but Miles is also ambitious. A bastard, he has no inheritance, so he must forge for himself a name in order to obtain a fief. He irked me, to be honest. Marta, who is sweet tempered and will stand up for what's right no matter what, is often passed over by his ambition. I wanted to wring his neck.
There is magic in this book, mostly centered around demons and Fiery Ones - angels, to be exact. Marta is protected by the angels, and can often escape harrowing situations by the righteousness of her soul. She is "kissed" by a Fiery One on her forehead, and can sense evil intentions when the scar from the kiss burns. It was a fascinating addition to the book.
One aspect I really enjoyed was the politics. Although this is an alternative history story with some splashes of magic thrown in, the politics seemed quite real, with infighting, religious factions, treason, war, and believable motives by all those involved. Another part I really enjoyed was the friendship between Marta and King Baldwin. Marta has a lot of compassion for him, and he clearly is drawn to her. Their friendship was a bright spot in an otherwise dark book filled with people who were out for their own ends. And the King being disabled was done quite well.
Marta is a very strong main character. In fact, all of the characters in this book are good, even the ones you're supposed to hate. But Marta in particular is strong in her convictions, always wanting to do whats right (even if it gets her in trouble), and always willing to stand up for her friends.
There are a couple of complaints I have, but they aren't too strong. One thing is the plot - it meanders a bit, with several inciting events that aren't necessarily cohesive. There's a lot of plot lines going on, and although they were easy to follow, I feel like it could have been a bit tighter. Perhaps it makes more sense in the larger context of the series? But since I haven't read A Wind in the Wilderness, it does read as a bit haphazard. Second, I was a bit confused by the climax of the book. So as to not throw in any spoilers, I'll just leave it at this: there is a certain scene between Marta and Baldwin that didn't seem to fit in with the book as a whole.
Otherwise, this is an enjoyable read. Fans of good politics, intriguing characters, historical fantasy, medieval fantasy, and a healthy dose of magic are sure to enjoy it.