The King’s Shield by Sherwood Smith (2008)

July 29, 2011 at 12:30 pm (fantasy, LGBT)

It’s not fair, I know, to review just the third book in a series of four – especially when it’s a positive review! – but between one thing and another I never got around to posting reviews of the first two.  Sorry about that.  The good news is, they’re all still in print (I was actually able to pluck all the first three off the shelves in bookstores).

These are long, dense novels that primarily follow the career of Indevan Algara-Vayir (known to friends as Inda) from early adolescence to some time in his twenties.  They’re busy years, as Inda attends a military academy (Inda), is exiled and becomes a pirate-hunter (The Fox), returns home and helps defend his country against invaders (The King’s Shield), and tries to secure a peaceful future for his country (Treason’s Shore).

Other important point-of-view characters include Tdor, the girl Inda was betrothed to at birth; his sister Hadand; fellow sailors and pirate-hunters (especially Jeje and Tau); the crown prince and the king’s second son; and others I’m probably forgetting.  There are, in fact, a lot of point-of-view characters, many of them situational.  And some of them die.

Part of the novels’ density is that Marlovan society (that’s Inda’s home country) has a lot of formal, complex relationships, and a lot of the characters have both personal names and titles used as names (and which are in a foreign language, and some of which change during the course of the story).  These can be hard to keep track of.

Another part of the density is that this world is different from ours in a number of notable ways.  A couple of samples: the cities don’t need sewer systems, because the “Waste Spell” disposes of such things; and women can only get pregnant if they consume a certain plant, and sometimes not even then.  There are other more subtle but significant differences as well.  Smith lays out a bunch of it (as well as explanations that the characters are largely not aware of) here, if you’d rather have all the background up front.

Finally, the world has a long history that directly affects the cultures and politics that are present in it; some of it is explained, and a lot of it is just there.

It’s all fascinating, if you like dense tapestries of culture, politics, and war.  And then there are the characters – individual, interesting, imperfect, and subject to growth and change over time.  The difference between adolescent and adult versions of several of them is great, and very believable.

So much goes on even in the third volume that I’m not going to try to be specific about the plot.  Suffice it to say that the enemy approaches the shore; desperate last stands are made; politics turns deadly; secrets are revealed; people rejoice, suffer, and die.  These are great books, really intense experiences, and definite permanent additions to our library.

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