31 May, 2011

Review - The River Kings' Road: A Novel of Ithelas by Liane Merciel

While visiting the rival's city of Willowfield, the Lord of Bull's March, Sir Galefrid, has been ambushed by a dark magic only a Thorn could wield. The entire town is decimated, except for Brys Tarnell, who is able to escape just before the bloodmist fully takes its toll.

The coincidences and timing make it hard to believe it's only the workings of a Thorn and its bloodmagic. Sir Kelland, a knight of the Sun, blessed to work magic in the goddess Celestia's name, and Bitharn, hopelessly in love with Kelland, are asked to investigate by the Lord of Langmyr and governing province of Willowfield who had hoped to enter peace talks with the rival lord, Sir Galefrid.

Set in my favorite subgenre, that of secondary world epic fantasy, The River Kings' Road [US] [UK] is the first in the series of Ithelas (the second, Heaven's Needle [US] [UK], having been recently released).

As Peter William mentions in his review, there's a lot of competition (or maybe just a lot of books) in this subgenre with the very easy possibility of good works being lost in the sea of junk. Luckily for me, I have friends that know a good thing when they see it.

I still can't believe this was a first novel for Liane Merciel. Her prose is crisp and the pacing is perfect. I was deeply involved with the characters, and even her antagonists are hard not to like, or at least respect, they reside in a nice gray area.

The magic is centered around certain rituals that invoke a goddess' power. The Thorns' magic is based around their worship of the goddess of pain, so their rituals are pretty sick and twisted indeed. Kelland, as a knight of the Sun, has certain magical abilities which, like the Thorns, aren't completely explained, but also based in ritual (although more inward than the Thorns' outward pain infliction).

This brings up a great point that sets Merciel apart. Not only is her magic something different than the usual, but her entire story isn't run-of-the-mill either. There is no quest, but the world she's created is mysterious and vast nonetheless.

Once you get past the confusion at the beginning, mostly in trying to figure out which town belongs in which kingdom and who's on whose side, The River Kings' Road is a very satisfying read.

Why Read River Kings' Road?

Liane Merciel deserves much more credit than she has received until now and I hope her audience continues to grow and grow. I really enjoyed her debut, The River Kings' Road, and I'm extremely excited for the next installment, Heaven's Needle. Highly Recommended!

4 out of 5 Stars (Loved it!)

Check out an interview with Liane Merciel at Speculative Book Review.

Copy provided by Simon and Shuster Pocket