The first book in an epic fantasy series. It’s pretty dark so I’m adding this book to the RIP.
Publication year: 2012
Page count: 670
290 years ago the peace accords were signed between the True-men (whom the T’En call Mieren) and the powerful and long-lived T’Enatuath (whom the humans call the Wyrd). The two races have co-existed in an uneasy peace since then. Sometimes half-bloods (whom the T’En call the Malaunje and the humans call the Wyrd) are born to two True-men parents. According to the accords, the True-men have to give up the half-blood infants to the T’En.
Sorne is king Charald’s eagerly-awaited first born son and heir. However, when Sorne is born a half-blood with six fingers and toes, red hair, and dark eyes, the king of Chalcedon is bitterly disappointed. The king wants to kill the boy, instead of giving him to the T’En so that as few people as possible would know about his shame. But high priest Oskane manages to save the infant’s life by suggesting that Oskane could take the child, hide him, and study him so that the True-men could find out any weaknesses the half-bloods have. The king agrees, but orders his young queen poisoned so that he can marry again and produce heirs without tainted blood. The queen was Oskane’s kin and Oskane had arranged the marriage so he feels responsible for the infant and the queen’s death.
Oskane, his aide, and a small group of servants travel to a abandoned place. On the way, they encounter a young woman being chased by a mob. The woman has given birth to a half-blood and the people in her village are furious. Oskane takes the young woman and her family with her. So, a king’s son and a carpenter’s son grow up together, both hated half-bloods, while Oskane dreams of revenge through the boy Sorne. In order to help the two half-bloods to become strong and resist the temptation of their magical gifts, Oskane beats them every day starting when they’re just five years old.
400 years ago a covenant was done between the male and the female T’En. According to the covenant, both sexes lived separetely in their own sisterhoods and brotherhoods. All pure blooded T’En children must be given to the sisterhoods to raise. Girls would never see their fathers again but the boys would return to their brotherhood when they turn seventeen.
Imoshen is a full-blooded T’En girl, born to T’En father, who is the leader of his brotherhood, and his Malaunje lover. Her father has raised her in secret with the hope that Imoshen would give birth to a powerful child who would break the covenant between the T’En brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Imoshen is raised on an island with only a few servants and without any knowledge of her culture.
Both Sorne and Imoshen are outsiders in their own cultures, and so they are a great way to introduce the cultures to the reader. Sorne knows that his culture despises half-bloods, like himself, but he doesn’t have to face that fact until in his adolescence, while Imoshen is thrust into the scheming and oppressive culture of the T’En almost without any knowledge about it. They both see the unfairness of their cultures and idealistically want to change them. Both are also flawed characters, especially when they get older and are scarred both physically and mentally by their experiences. The book follows them from birth to young adulthood.
We also follow a couple of other point-of-view characters. Vittoryxe is an ambitious young T’En woman. She wants to become the leader of her sisterhood, the all-mother, and will scheme and plot to get there. Unfortunately, she also expects everyone else to be a schemer and a liar, and treats them accordingly. Graelan is a young man who has just returned to his brotherhood, head full of battle and glory. To his shock, he’s trust in the middle of brotherhood scheming. Oskane leaves his familiar life at forty-five to raise the king’s half-blood son and to teach him humility and piety. However, Oskane still thinks of Sorne as a pawn and not a person who might want to do something else with his life than be a spy or avenger.
The book has a very complex world. The True-men have six different kingdoms and they each seem to have somewhat different culture, and different religions. They also have different languages. However, we don’t see much of them. Chalcedonian and T’En culture are the important ones for the story.
The T’En, or T’Enatuath as they call themselves, have been divided on gender lines to brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Every T’En has supernatural gifts and they believe that the male and the female gifts react badly to each other. The male gifts, and the males themselves, are seen as aggressive and dangerous. The male gift can taint a female gift, making the female addicted to the male gift. The female gifts are powerful in another plane but leave the female incapable of defending herself in the real world, and thus dangerously vulnerable to both the male T’En and the True-men. The half-bloods, called the Malaunje, serve the T’En in the brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Even though most T’En are born to one half-blood parent and one T’En parent, T’En don’t acknowledge the blood relationship to the half-blood. Also, in the T’En culture same-sex partners are commonplace. Each brotherhood is lead by an all-father and each sisterhood is lead by an all-mother. Each leader has two close confidantes and advisers: a hand-of-force and a voice-of-reason. Each clan has also a gift-tutor who is appointed by the previous gift-tutor. It seems that in a brotherhood, an all-father is replaced by assassination, outright murder, or by political scheming. In the sisterhoods, an all-mother usually steps down when she’s old and appoints the new leader, which usually means political scheming. I found the culture fascinating.
The T’En call the other plane the empyrean plane. The people with powerful gifts can project their minds to that plane but the plane is full of dangerous beasts. Unfortunately, the beasts can sometimes come to the real world on their own and so the T’En women must fight them. Sometimes a frightened or inexperienced T’En can also project herself accidentally to the other plane.
Besieged is centered on political scheming and interpersonal relationships (most of them are dysfunctional in one way or another). Families play also a large part; who should you give your loyalty and why. There’s also some interesting commentary on religion. The True-men of Chalcedonia worship the Seven; Mother, Father, and their five sons, and some characters claim to be able to talk with them. However, it’s clear from the start that they are lying. Religion seems to be pawn in political games or a exuse for people to justify their actions.
The book has a rather dark atmosphere with entire races hating and persecuting each other, children dying, and women being just pawns in political games. Oskane is a particularly dark character; he spends over a decade of his life raising two half-bloods but he always despises them and doesn’t see them as real people.
Yet, the characters have families and loved ones whom they defend and protect. Often enough the family isn’t by blood but by adoption. Both Sorne and Imoshen are curious people who want to know more and do what’s right.
There are lots of plot twists and some of them are down right brutal.