What I gleaned about the story: Trouble is brewing on the borders of an outlying province, and when the governor leads his army out to deal with it, his daughter is left to manage the affairs of state… and combat the secret plot that could destroy them all. (That last bit is mostly guesswork.)
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Analysis: This quote, from the first or second page, struck me as particularly deft. It’s more than just exposition – it’s a micro-story of its own. And when I find evocative writing like that on the first page, it gives me hope that I’m in the hands of an experienced author.
Analysis: It’s a difficult thing to have the characters say what needs to be said to advance the plot, and at the same time, do so in a way that reveals their character, as well as the relationships they have with the other characters they’re speaking to. But upon reflection, I’m impressed by how much of the exposition of both plot and character was done through dialogue.
Analysis: There’s a flashback scene in which Lilith recalls the horrible night she and her father left the capital, but I found the transition awkward. In the “present,” she has been told that her father and his men are leaving, but in the flashback, her father and his men are leaving a different place. Normally, the use of two or three past perfect verbs is enough to establish the time shift, and we stay in the new time because the events are markedly different from what we were doing in the present. But when the two timelines are telling such similar events, I don’t think a verb transition is enough. For me, each of the sentences that followed felt like it could be applied to either the past or the present, and I was constantly wondering if we had reverted to the present again without signalling it. To make matters worse, this uncertainty carried on for several hundred words, and with each new sentence, I was more mistrustful of which time we were in, and I had to go back and re-read it twice before I was certain of which time frame was which. And this was enough to break immersion.
In a case like this, I think a scene break would have been a much more trustworthy transition device.
Notes: This story is not only well written, but it shows us a historical milieu that has not received as much attention as the feudal society of the Middle Ages, which predominates modern fantasy. Instead, here we get a rich and believable Romanesque world, with just as much intrigue, politics, and warfare, as any of the more Medieval norms, but with more room to breathe and fewer clichés to fear on the horizon. I can’t say that I’ve seen any fantastical elements yet, other than the invented map and place names, but I’ve only read the first couple of chapters, so there’s still plenty of time for those to show up.
Caveat: Upon reading the rest of the book later, I was disappointed to find that it is in fact a novella, which ended at about the point in the story where things were just beginning to happen.