A compelling fantasy adventure with complex, believable characters in a vividly imagined world imperiled from desert to sea.
Full disclosure: Back in the 1980s, Dave Smeds and I were both being published by Ace Books, and we became friends at science fiction and fantasy cons. I greatly enjoyed the first two novels in Dave’s fantasy series starting with The Sorcery Within. Fast forward a few decades, and now we’re both members of the publishing cooperative Book View Café. I was excited to learn that Dave had recently finished the third novel in the series and updated the first two novels in new BVC editions. The Sorcery Within is a terrific read, even better than I recalled, and I can hardly wait to read the rest of the series. A bonus: the gorgeous new covers, as Dave is also a gifted cover designer.
The Sorcery Within starts with a bang – or rather an attack with blades – and maintains an addictive momentum throughout, while still managing to flesh out details of different cultures and settings along with deepening characters and motivations. We first meet the twins Elenya and Alemar on an urgent trek through a hostile desert, where they are attacked by tribal warriors. They face the choice of dying on the spot or joining the warriors, who are impressed with their fighting skills. It becomes clear that the twins guard a secret mission as well as more than a tinge of sorcery.
The storyline alternates viewpoints between the two twins, along with various other characters, chiefly Keron of a seafaring nation, and Lerina who becomes his unexpected ally and more. The secrets and histories of all the characters unfold gradually and finally intertwine, providing tension and the urge to put the puzzle of this world together and understand the threat facing it. (I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers.)
I really enjoyed this braided approach that let me gradually get to know the characters and their quests, while viscerally participating in active scenes, rather than a lot of narrative “telling” me about them. Smeds also has a background in martial arts, and his fight scenes are vivid and convincing.
There are touches of humor, too, in the awkward culture-clashes as Elenya and Alemar must learn the ways of the desert tribes. Elenya, as an outsider and female warrior, is an outrage to desert tradition, but reluctantly accepted for her special skills. Smeds, in all of his writing, is adept at creating strong women characters and dealing with sexual politics, here with some interesting twists. Add horned camel-like desert mounts, a “hang-gliding” wizard, a tame giant octopus that assists Keron in undersea adventures, and many more fanciful touches, and I kept wondering what Smeds would come up with next. Somehow it all worked within this world.
Bring on the next in the series!
You will find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Café is Pause, First Place winner of the Chanticleer Somerset Award and an International Pulpwood Queens Book Club selection. “A must-read novel about friendship, love, and killer hot flashes.” (Mindy Klasky). Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at www.sarastamey.com