Okay, this is technically a books recommendation, plural, because this story is spread out over three volumes: The Warrior’s Path, A Journey of the Heart, and A Hero’s Tale. But in my opinion this is really one long novel, broken into three easier-to-publish pieces. Plan to read all three, because you won’t get the actual end of the story until the end of the third one.
And it is well, well, WELL worth the journey. I’m not even sure where to begin in praising these books, because they are the kind of writing that a lesser author like me drools over, wishing she could someday be that good. No, seriously… have you ever read “purple prose”? The flowery language and description that some writers use in the hopes of sounding romantic, and instead end up sounding pretentious and ridiculous? This book is what purple prose is aspiring to be. This is what romantic writing sounds like when it’s done RIGHT, with real skill.
“Her first kiss was fierce. After the shock of it, I felt her draw back. I waited for her, and she returned to me, more gently this time. Her kiss was a caress, but it tasted bittersweet. She tried to make me understand. Her meaning slipped into the darkest places in my heart and showed me my own fear. I clung to her, as if she could be my shield against it. It would be a long time before I understood that fear is only the dark face of love.”
So, this trilogy tops just about every lesbian fantasy book list I’ve ever seen, and I was really excited to read it. It’s not really a fantasy, however. It’s a historical novel, though it’s set in the Bronze Age and as a result has an older-than-medieval feel to it that makes its classification as fantasy understandable. There’s a bit of mysticism, but the only “magic” seems to be in the deeply spiritual way that the narrator experiences certain things.
This is also maybe the most epic, perfect, satisfying hero-tale I’ve ever read. The story follows Tamras, a teenager who goes to live at the estate of a family friend in order to (hopefully) be apprenticed to a warrior and eventually become a warrior herself. She is assigned to the one warrior no one else wants – a surly, rude outsider named Maara, that no one trusts or likes. The Lady of the estate asks Tamras to serve as a spy and help her determine if Maara intends them harm.
Tamras is a deeply introspective person, much wiser than even she herself knows, and throughout the story she simply follows what her heart tells her to do. This is often the opposite of what the hardened warriors around her believe is right- sometimes even the opposite of what she herself knows is sensible-and yet consistently, her gut instinct proves to have been the wisest and most strategic course of action. As she matures, her ability to connect the dots, to decipher others’ plans, to negotiate with those in greater power, and to feel in harmony with her own inner self continue to develop, until by the end of the book this average little girl has become a legendary heroine of truly epic proportions. It’s part fate, part luck, and part ingenuity, but ultimately it’s all really about love. And you guys know what a sucker I am for “love conquers all” tales.
The story is slow-moving, but for me the writing was so yummy that I didn’t care. The first book sets up the characters, the primary conflicts, and the developing relationships that are going to drive the rest of the story. The second book focuses on Tamras’s life going to hell, and yet also beginning a new chapter of budding love. And the third book is MADE OF AWESOME. There’s a slightly odd dalliance at the beginning with a group of mysterious forest dwellers (this is the part of the story that’s the most “magical”) and then we get dumped into intrigue, angst, cleverness, rescue, and a huge climactic battle. I found it to be one of the most satisfying endings of a journey/adventure tale that I’ve ever read, and enjoyed it immensely. Oh, and did I mention that Maara is not a white person? The book doesn’t specify what her ethnicity or race are, other than that she is dark-skinned and possibly related to the “Old Ones,” but I hearts me some books with diverse characters.
If I were to come up with a criticism, I guess the most critical thing I can think of to say is that there are a lot of mini-stories throughout this book, since Tamras is something of a storyteller, and those often had great set up and less-than-satisfying conclusions. There’s also a loose end in the third book where it seems like Tamras is planning to jump over a waterfall (a feat that the reader wants to know how she’s going to pull off) and then some stuff happens and she goes off in a different direction, and that felt a wee bit unresolved. Other than that, though, I pretty much loved everything about this story, beginning to end.
So yeah… Read this one! The first book is actually available, in its entirety, online. You can check out Catherine M. Wilson’s website here, and Dog Ear Studios is working on an audiobook version too. Enjoy!