Reviewed by Andy Venn
This story centres on Malian, the heir to the family of Night. She is trained to take over the family duty, to protect the world from the ancient enemy that lives beyond the Keep of Winds. But one night everything changes. Two heralds arrive with a message for the Earl and later that night the ancient enemy invades the keep from old and hidden passages. Malian is separated from the family and the guard and driven into the old passages where she hides with the help of a novice priest who has discovered that he has a talent for hiding. Eventually the Dark Swarm are driven back, with the help of a mystical weapon and Malian is recovered. But the attacks continue and Malian finds that she is developing powers that would preclude her from becoming head of the family and ruling at the Keep of Winds. In normal circumstances she would be required to go to the temple and have nothing to do with the Keep. But times have changed, and unbeknown to the Earl a decision is made that Malian must leave the Keep while she comes into her full power. Only then may she be able to defeat this ancient enemy.
She leaves the Keep with the young novice that she has now befriended, and her Steward and head out into the world. But they are followed. Someone has let her secret departure be known. They are pursued into a land with an awakening power. No one is quite sure if the power that is waking is good, bad or mad but they do not want to find out. The pursuers catch up with them and they find that Malians steward has turned against them, possibly because of a madness caused by the power in the land or maybe by the Dark Swarm themselves. They are helped by the arrival of the two heralds who help them get away and the Shaman from the Winter Lands who creates a snow storm to help them escape.
This is a cracking story. It has all the elements that I have come to expect in a fantasy novel. Magic, a prophecy, priests, a dark enemy. It gallops along a rate of knots that almost leaves you gasping for breath, but I still found it very hard to put down.
In theory a fantasy novel should be easy to write, as you are only limited by your own imagination. But there is still a tendency to stick to the same old formulas, nothing wrong with that and I have hundreds of these novels in my study (much to my wife’s annoyance!). And to a certain extent this book is the same, but there are some interesting ways of dealing with plot lines. I am looking forward to finding out more about the ancient enemy and where the major players in this book came from originally. Helen also has a very easy writing style which made it very easy to read.
Being an old, and somewhat grumpy man according to my wife, I remember the days when fantasy was written only by men, Robert E Howard etc. In fact the first fantasy novel I bought was Almuric, by REH, closely followed by all the Conan stories. The influx of female writers of this genre has mainly passed me by until recent years when I discovered Robin Hobb and Carol Berg, and others. The female writers seem to bring a certain delicacy to their work while at the same time managing the hack and slash, that the likes of Howerd and Gemmell write, very well. You can safely surmise that I did enjoy this book immensely and I am now desperate for the next instalment.
About Andy Venn
I’m Andy Venn, aka Giant68 due to being 6’8″ tall. I have been reading science fiction for 35 years since picking up the Lensman series. And fantasy since I pinched “Lost Worlds” by Clarke Ashton Smith from my uncle. I read both in, pretty much, equal measures. I write a blog occasionally, containing the whimsical, or bad tempered, meanderings of my mind at http://giant68.blogspot.com. Go and have a look, you’ll find out all about me, and Lord knows I need the followers! Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.