This is another stand-alone novel in world of Shadow books. I rather liked the protagonist even though I disliked the central conflict.
Kayli is one of the daughters of the High Lord Elaasar who is the leader of the wandering horse clans. Even though Kayli has been given the training and the upbringing of the noble birth, at the start of the book she is in the final stages of studying to become a mage and possibly a priestess in the Order of the Inner Flame. All of her ambitions and expectations are for a life of a firemage. However, the High Lord is given a chance to make peace with their longtime enemy, Agrond, and the way to seal the alliance is of course a marriage. Even though Elaasar and his wife have eight daughters the only one of them who is old enough and not married or a priestess already is Kayli. She feels that it’s her duty towards her country and family to comply and so she leaves behind everything she knows and goes to swamp land to marry a man she has never even seen.
However, the High Priestess of her order, Brisi, assures her that she has studied so long that it would be dangerous for her if she didn’t continue her studies and have an Initiation to become a full mage. She gives Kayli a grimoire so that Kayli can continue her studies. Kayli is then a little bit comforted but she still has to leave behind the familiar culture of the horse clans and move to unknown culture in the middle of people who still think of her as an enemy.
Her husband-to-be sends his brother and retinue of guards to escort her to Agrond. The brother, Terralt, and Kayli don’t get along at all but they have to because they will be family quite soon. On the way Kayli shows everyone that she’s a capable woman, an excellent rider and not a spoiled princess. However, she’s fasting in preparation for her Initiation and this makes her a bit weak.
On the road the caravan is attacked and Kayli and Terralt must flee in the middle of a storm but they make it to Agrond’s capital and Kayli and Randon are married quickly. Then Kayli tries to fit into Agrond’s culture and tackle foreign politics among mostly hostile people.
Most of the book centers on politics and fitting into a foreign culture. There are also themes of self-discovery and duty much like in Guardian’s Key. Kayli is a strong, adult main character even though she isn’t always in total control of her powers or surroundings but that’s understandable in a foreign culture. However, the two cultures are mostly superficially different and more similar than alike so she doesn’t have many difficulties outside feelings of loneliness and isolation. There are no battle scenes; just people in the grips of brutal politics.
When I realized that the book was about an arranged marriage, I was very close to putting it down. Indeed, if this hadn’t been Logston’s book I would have. Aside from the fact that I just don’t like arranged marriages as plots (she’s a hostage. Have the decency to call her that and stay out of her private life!) these plots tend to always be the same. No matter what kind of ogre the bride thinks she’s marrying, he will, without a fail, turn out to be young, decent, honest, understanding, sympathetic, a good ruler, and have exactly the same morals as the bride no matter how different their cultures are supposed to be. Not to mention handsome yet single and without so much as a mistress or a beloved concubine and/or bastards. Without a fail the arranged couple will fall in love in short order. Predictability is always a turn-off for me. Also, in fantasy there is the possibility to make the whole thing more… you know, fantastic. Why not have the man go to the princess? Why not have the man or woman be just one of the spouses or the primary spouse or part of a group marriage? Why not have far more different customs between the cultures? Or maybe the ruling families could adopt each other kids? Or they become blood-brothers or bonded to wolves or dragons? Sigh.
Logston’s royal couple isn’t an exception. However, she still manages to keep things interesting enough that I finished the book. I liked Kayli even though her problems where a bit too easy to solve. Also, the fire magic is very well done. It’s not too convenient but it’s not useless, either. Fire magic is also linked to sexuality. The Initiation that make a person a full mage is also the mage’s first sexual experience and that’s why the partner should be chosen carefully. However, this is all written very tastefully and there are no explicit scenes in the book.
Oh, and in my mind at least duty goes both ways. When your family is ready to sell you for a bit of security, it’s time to realize that they just value themselves more than you.