Part of my 1st in a series –challenge and the 9 books challenge. It’s the first in the Crossroads fantasy series. I won this one and the next in the series in a contest from Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist. It’s written in the third person and has multiple point-of-view characters.
Most of the book is set in a fantasy land called the Hundred which has several lords who reign over a part of the land but no high king or ruler as such. Once the mysterious Guardians kept the justice but they seem to have vanished and now only the Reeves are trying to keep up the peace. The Reeves are people who fly on giant eagles and live in their Halls mostly apart from other people. They serve as judges during town councils. However, lately the ordinary people have lost faith in them.
The book starts with Reeves Marit and Joss who are investigating one place where Guardians are supposed to be. They find only bones and forbidding magic. Joss returns to the Clan Hall to report their finding but Marit investigates a disturbance near by. She finds that one of the local lords is leading a group of savage men and is promptly killed.
Then the story jumps forward 19 years. Reeve Joss is now a legate but he’s also a drunkard and a womanizer. He blames himself for Marit’s death and can’t find peace for himself. Time has only made the Reeves’ position worse; some people now even hunt and kill the Reeves. At the same time, other people demand the Reeves should protect them better. The Reeves’ commander sends Joss and a couple of other men to guard a caravan and also to investigate.
The next part of the book focuses on the young woman Mai. She lives in Kartu Town far south of the Hundred. She lives in a merchant family and sells fruit in the market. She’s engaged to a young man from her town. Mai and her people live in a conquered country. The Quin are a race of warriors and they seem to have conquered her country easily. Mai’s life gets thrown upside down when Anji, a Quin officer, sees her in the market and wants to marry her. Her family has no choice but to agree; at least the officer didn’t just take Mai as his concubine. Mai is, of course, scared and she’s even more scared when she finds out that Anji has been ordered to leave and get new orders. She has no choice but to follow her new husband to unknown lands.
Shai is Mai’s young uncle. Shai is the youngest of seven sons and therefore considered extraneous because he can’t contribute anything to the family. However, he has a secret; he can see the spirits of the dead and hear what they say. Because he would be killed as a witch if anyone knew about it, he keeps his ability a secret. When Mai is sent far away from Kartu Town, Shai’s eldest brother sends Shai along as well. Like most of his people, Shai can’t ride or use weapons because the Quin have forbidden it, so the journey scared him, too.
The next point-of-view character is introduced about half-way into the book. Keshad is a slave who is trusted with his master’s money to go out of the Hundred and into south to buy merchandise for his master. He resents his own status as a slave and is now close to earning his own freedom by selling other people into slavery. He’s traveling with a caravan back from the south.
There are a couple of more POV characters are well, later in book. All of them are pretty distinct from each other.
The book has many different cultures. The Hundred’s culture is perhaps most like our modern Western culture at least with attitudes towards women; men and women work side by side. It has also seven deities. Of them, the Merciless One was most distinct from the others. Her followers (mostly women) are priestesses dealing in sex and death. They seem to be holy prostitutes who can choose their clients. At the same time, at least some of them have been trained as assassins. Some of the people respect them as holy priestesses while others consider them whores.
Also, the Hundred culture places significance to a person’s birth year; a person born is a certain year is dependable while a person born in another year is restless. While slavery is accepted in the Hundred, in theory a person can be made a slave only for seven years and after that he or she must go free. However, in recent years the owners has started to charge the slaves for food, room, and possible education which lengthens the years significantly.
The culture where Mai comes from separates the men and women somewhat more. They each have their own professions and women rarely learn to read. However, even an unmarried woman like Mai can be sent to the market all by herself to sell fruit. Marriages seem to be arranged by the couple’s parents and the eldest male is the head of the household which consists of his unmarried, close relatives. The culture seems quite peaceful.
The Quin, on the other hand, are a warlike people and they respect strength also in their women. Most Quin women seem to be able to ride and fight as well as the men. Sometimes they buy slaves from other cultures but they don’t enslave any Quin.
Between Mai’s people and the Hundred lies the Sirniakan Empire who worships the fire god Beltan and accept no other gods.
There are also the servitors of the Hidden One who are the only ones who don’t condone slavery at all. However, many of the other cultures respect them and allow them to live in peace even in other lands.
Pretty much all of the characters in this book are non-white. As far as I can tell, there’s only one white-skinned character and she seems so odd to the others that they think she’s a demon. The Hundred are the northern-most country and its people are described having a golden-brown complexion. The others range from brown-black to bronze-red.
I really wanted to like this book. It has many qualities which I like: different cultures (instead of Good and Evil), conflict between cultures who don’t seem evil, lots of non-white characters, actual slavery (not the fantasy slavery seen in most fantasy books), and the reeves. When I was reading the book I was quite entertained. However, when I put the book down, for some reason I didn’t feel compelled to return to it. I started the book in September and I’ve finished quite a few books while reading this one in fits and starts. This is quite unusual for me. Perhaps I’m just still in my epic slump. It did feel slow at times. I also felt that I lost interest every time a new POV character was introduced. They took “screen-time” away from the characters I already knew.
I did have a problem with Marit right at the start. Or rather I liked her a lot and was really disappointed that she had to die in order to further Joss’ story. She does appear a few times as some sort of spirit guide to Joss but it’s too little for my taste. Once again a woman had to die to motive a man’s story.
This is also very obviously the first book in a story because the mysterious interesting stuff which where hinted at, remain a mystery.
I am intrigued by the proposed structure of the series; one trilogy, one stand-alone book, and the second trilogy. I also like the cultures. But I don’t know if I’ll continue with this one. There are other books I’d like to try first.