You can download Hal for free on Amazon this week starting from today (Monday 5th March) until Friday.
You’ll find her here on Amazon.com:
You can download Hal for free on Amazon this week starting from today (Monday 5th March) until Friday.
You’ll find her here on Amazon.com:
Another beautiful installment of Heather Rose Jones’s Alpennia series, which introduces us to composer Luzie Valorin and Serafina Talarico, a vidator who is blessed with the power to see fluctus but not invoke it. Serafina appeared briefly towards the end of the second book The Mystic Marriage, but here her story is taken up in full. Born in Italy to Ethiopian parents, she escapes a loveless marriage to pursue her study of thaumaturgy, lodging with Luzie, a widow and musician who struggles to make ends meet following the death of her husband.
All the other major characters from the previous books are also given their own stories and the book emerges as a complex weave of narratives, each subtly related but distinct in the way they represent different aspects of Alpennian life. And while the book doesn’t draw all the individual strands of the story to their conclusions, the ending is really satisfying and leaves you hankering for more. Having said that, I did feel that as more characters are thrown into the ensemble, there’s not always enough focus on each one. I feel the author might have gone for broke and even doubled the length of the book to deliver more insight into the lives and relationships of these characters who never fail to fascinate.
That, however, is just a grumble which proves how much I love this series. It’s expertly penned, the prose style is tense and concise, it’s convincing in terms of characterisation and you just find yourself completely absorbed by the whole idea of Alpennia and its mysterious inhabitants. Can’t wait for more.
I’ve now started work on the next book in the Artist Enchanters series, The Fresco and the Fountain. This is a series which follows the journeys of three exiles as they travel through a land in which art really is magic and the greatest dangers often lie within their own hearts. Part One of the series, The Firefarer, is now available on Amazon. I’ve decided to write part two away from Wattpad, as I hope it will give me greater freedom to play around with the development of the narrative and the characters.
However, here is a sneek preview of chapter one in which former monk Vito begins to learn the arts of the Pagi. Warning – if you’ve not read The Firefarer, look away now as it contains spoilers!
Chapter One: Adama
“Now that,” Vito said, wiping a crumb from his cheek, “was delicious. What did you say your name was?”
“Nico. Nico Ol Arcano, my Lord.”
Vito winced. “I’m not a Lord, Nico.”
“Oh. I thought…” the young man’s face flushed, embarrassment clouding the pale blue of his eyes. He was lean and light in build with soft, almost feminine features and long, copperish hair.
“I mean…look at me. Do I resemble a Lord?” Vito squeezed a grape between his teeth, revelling in its sweetness.
“No, Master Vito. I mean…you have Lordly bearing. I should have thought…under different circumstances…”
“Please!” Vito shook his head. “I’m a corrupted monk, Nico. I’m at best a caretaker in this house, at worst…”his fingers settled on the seal in his pocket. “…at worst a cuckoo. I’m merely looking after it until the Duchess of Libarum returns.”
“The Duchess? I thought…”
“Or some distant family member,” Vito added with haste. “But they tolerate me here because of this.” He plucked the seal from his pocket, turning it over in his hands so that Nico might see the scroll engraved on one side, the image of the Libarum palace on the other. “At present, I am the only acknowledged bearer of such a seal. And it bestows certain…rights.”
“I see.” But Nico’s frown suggested that he didn’t. “And might I ask, Master Vito…”
“Just Vito, please.”
“Might I ask how you came by this?”
“Ah.” Vito’s mind retraced its steps to the carnage of a battle field; to a woman’s groans, to searing heat and pain. “That,” he faltered, “is a story for another time.” He slipped the seal back into his pocket. “For now, my dear Nico, I would like to employ your services as a cook.”
Weak autumn sunlight strayed through the windows of the study. Had she once looked out at that same view? At the burnished gold of distant vineyards and woodland; at the terraces of the palace spilling down into orchards and fountains?
“Tell me…” Vito leant across the remains of his supper. “Is cooking…cuisine…is it as valued an art as all the others?”
“More so.” Nico moved to the hearth, rubbing his hands before its warmth. “A well prepared feast feeds all our senses.”
“Even our ears?”
“Have you never listened to the harmonies of a well-tuned kitchen, Vito?”
“No. I can’t say I have. Well…” he rose and shook hands with Nico. “I hope that you will introduce me to this…most mystical of arts. Many thanks for this…” his hand hovered once more over the remains of his supper. For some reason his mind failed to grasp what it was he had just eaten. “…inexpressible…delicious…well, I have to study now.”
Nico raised an eyebrow. “To study?”
“Yes. I have much to learn about all the arts.”
“I thought monks shunned such knowledge.”
With a smile Vito whisked open the door, waiting for Nico to pass through. “A corrupted monk, my friend. Corrupted.”
“You will observe how the artist draws our attention to the hunters’ chase.” Avala Ol Hauriro circled the central motif of the painting with a jewelled finger.
Vito craned forward. “Yes. I see.”
The artwork was small in scale, framed in dark, resinous walnut and balanced on an easel in the centre of his study. To its fore, a tight knot of Pagi hunters pursued a wounded hart through dense woodland. The forest itself resembled an exercise in geometry rather than a depiction of nature, its trees a sprouting series of matchsticks.
“Look carefully, Vito. The artist was cunning. The hunters themselves are a mere distraction.”
“They are?” He peered into the painting once more. Nothing changed. One grand Pagi Lord charged, suspended in paint, his spear raised high above his shoulder. Behind him rode his band of followers pointing, crying out as the deer sprang away into the distance. Vito shook his head, frustrated. “What am I looking for?”
“Vito…” Avala eyed him with grave, grey eyes. It was hard to guess her age. And the Pagi were nothing if not arch dissemblers. But she seemed of middle years; a cascade of thick, chestnut curls framing the sharp, even contours of her face. “Vito, as I have already explained, the painting itself is an assembly of ochre and lead, of malachite, copper and carmine. Its enchantment is released when you truly see it, Vito. It all depends on your act of sight. Look at it again. Look beyond the hunters and into the forest. Look at it and see what the painter is really telling you.”
He shifted his gaze from hunters to trees as instructed: at the mustard brown of their bark and the emerald shreds of their leaves. At the quaint parakeets and owls which nestled in their branches. The lightest breath of wind brushed his cheek, like a woman’s kiss. Vito shivered. This was unwise; he should tear himself from the painting now. He was too old to learn of Pagi art without falling into its net. It would ensnare him: a poor, lapsed monk who knew nothing of its dangers. But without this knowledge, he would never match his brother. And so he forced himself to look.
The forest parted. Boughs bent to his sight, the wind sifting the leaves. The hart bounded past, having evaded the Pagi. And there, lying amid a grove of fir trees lay a naked man and woman, their clothes strewn across the grass. They clung to each other, rising together in their love making. And then the woman raised her head and looked directly at Vito, her grey eyes meeting his over her lover’s shoulder. Her hair was a wild shock of brown curls.
Sucking in his breath, sweating, his heart dancing wildly, Vito stepped away…and back into the studio, into the waning light of an autumn afternoon. He stared at Avala. “You!”
“So you saw us.” She played idly with a ring of sapphire set upon her right index finger.
“And he…he was…”
“Vito,” her eyes betrayed amusement. “He was the artist. And the Pagi Lord…”
“Yes. My husband. Philo Ol Hauriro. But we’re not here to talk about my infidelity, are we? We’re here to talk about art.”
“Does he know?” Vito gasped, breathless.
“He would do if he’d looked at that painting in the way you just had, Vito. The irony is that it hangs on my bedroom wall and yet he’s never really seen it. Vito,” she grasped his wrist, shaking him out of shock. “You invited me here to teach you about art. For what purposes I neither know nor care. But let this be our first lesson. Every Pagi painting is a lock. And your eyes are the key to that lock.”
A lock and its key. The words threaded through his memory, stirring and disturbing. “And all art acts in this way…music, sculpture, architecture…they are all locks to which my eyes…my mind is a key?”
Avala nodded. “Without your sight, your way of perceiving them or hearing them, they are nothing. Imagination is alchemy, Vito.”
“And what…what about words. Could my own thoughts work upon them in the same way…as a key?”
“Wait here.” He held up a hand and dashed from the study, tearing down corridor after winding corridor until he’d reached his own chamber. Breathless, he crouched beside the bed and dragged a battered old satchel out from under it. The leather of the bag was faded, scratched and in places pocked with scorch marks. Vito slung it across his shoulder and raced back to the study where Avala stood with her back to him gazing out of the window. He felt inside the satchel for the book, tracing his fingers over its torn cover; over the title engraved across its spine. Then, without further hesitation he tipped it out onto the desk, embarrassed when two tawny plaits of hair fell out beside it. Hastily, he brushed them back into the bag and opened the book, flicking through its pages, trying to ignore the stories it had weaved all that hot summer as he had wandered grief ridden along the parched paths of the Pagi and into an arena of mass slaughter.
The words were still there, written by an unknown hand, scrawled across the base of the final page. Death is but a locked door. And I am the key. And now he was certain that Avala, with all her knowledge of Pagi ways, with her insights into magic and art, would help him to unlock that door. A strange coldness pricked the hairs on the back of his neck. She was behind him, he realised: peering over his shoulder at the book. He sensed her fear.
“Where did you get that?” she whispered.
“Is it true, Avala?” He turned to her. Her lips had thinned to pale lines; her eyes worked with strain. “Is it true?” he repeated. “If I read these words in the right way; if I set my imagination to work on them, will I unlock the door of death?”
“Vito,” her voice seemed to echo up from cavernous depths. “Vito, I am going to leave now.”
“But you said…you said you could teach me all there was to know about art!”
“Vito, I have given my life to art. But I won’t give up my soul for it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Burn that book, Vito. For all our sakes. Don’t let it tempt you. Don’t read it, don’t look at it. I’m…I must go. I can’t stay here.” She was gathering up the painting, wrapping it in a swathe of linen.
“I’m sorry, Vito.”
She didn’t look back. She was gone, out the door, her footsteps echoing to light clips as she fled from the palace. He sank down in his chair, brooding on the book. It was all he had…that, the seal and the hair. Avala didn’t understand; how could she? She hadn’t seen the things he’d seen, and for all her knowledge of art, she wouldn’t ever come close to the powers, the forces which had laid waste to entire armies, which had wrought such suffering, pain and death. Avala, he decided, was a novice. And so, for that matter, was his brother. If he unlocked the door of death itself, if he could right the wrongs of the past, then he would be greater than all of them. And Andre would come back, fleet of foot, tearing through the fabric of time with brightness and grace. Immortal.
I think I started writing Hal around 2012 and I had absolutely no idea what to do with it. I knew there was a story there, but I largely wrote for my own entertainment. And as I had a lot of other commitments at the time, I ended up stuffing the thing in a drawer and doing my best to forget about it.
It was only when I discovered the online writing platform Wattpad that I decided it might at least be fun to share Hal with a few other people. And it was a really pleasant surprise when I received some positive feedback, constructive criticism and encouragement. So I thought, what the hell? I’ll carry on writing.
Both Hal and Hannac would have stayed on Wattpad, however, were it not for the help of Rob May (author of the Dragon Killer Series) who set up Firebound Books together with two other independent writers – T J Garrett and Matthew Olney. Rob suggested publishing the books through Amazon, and although I was initially sceptical about the idea, I decided to give it a go. I’m enormously grateful to Rob and Firebound for all that support. With hindsight, I now realise that there was nothing to worry about, and the books have now reached a much wider readership than they had on Wattpad. Publishing on Amazon has given me the push I needed to keep going. I’m now in the process of writing the second part of the Artist Enchanters series (The Fresco and the Fountain) and I’ve got ideas for several other future projects.
The internet has really changed the way people write fiction. I see it very much as a collaborative process, and I’ve changed quite a few of my ideas as a result of readers’ suggestions. In fact, I almost see writing online as akin to the old oral traditions of storytelling in which the narrative might alter with each retelling, or listeners might offer their own ideas which would be incorporated into the plot. This is really what writing on line has given me – the opportunity to learn, to grow and develop as an author and to respond to readers’ suggestions in a way I’d never have been able to do in a traditional context. Add to that all the possibilities for engagement through social media and sites like goodreads or Wattpad, and the idea of writing as a solitary process goes out the window. I feel I have a long, long way to go as a novelist, but I am certain that the interaction I’ve enjoyed with other authors and readers has helped to get me to the stage where I’m now writing my fifth book.
So this is a long-winded way of saying thanks to everyone who’s helped me, whether it was through reading and commenting on Wattpad, helping me with the technical aspects of publishing, buying my work on Amazon or engaging on social media. I am absolutely certain that were it not for that kind of support, I wouldn’t be releasing The Duellist Trilogy today.
As the whole of the Duellist Trilogy will be available on Amazon from 18th February, this is a sample chapter from Hal.
I’m trying to decide whether or not to do an author reading of this chapter. If I finally take the plunge, I’ll link it to the blog.
“Was this the book you requested, Miss Léac?”
The librarian craned down at Meracad from his ladder, swaying beneath the dusty weight of a leather-bound volume. Standing on tiptoes, she studied the engraving on its spine: The Imperial Chronicles, Volume Two.
“Yes. That’s it. Thank you.”
He staggered down the rungs, laying it with reverence upon the reading desk. “Are you certain that you wish to read this?” Grey-flecked eyebrows shot up above a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles.
“And why not?” Her voice echoed around the silent, empty vault of the reading room.
“It is not common reading matter for young ladies, Miss Léac.”
“And who would it be common reading matter for, then?” Try as she might, she could not quite keep the defensive note out of her voice.
He shrugged. “Senators, courtiers…”
“I wish to know how my ancestors lived, Sir. How our empire came into being…why Colvé was built.”
The librarian raised a bony, nervous hand to his thinning hair, patting down a few loose strands. “Of course, Miss Léac. An admirable pursuit, if I might say so. Now I really must be…” he gazed around absently as if he had forgotten what he ought to be doing. “I must get back to my work.”
She sat down and began to leaf through The Chronicles, inhaling the delicate, woody scent of ancient parchment. She disturbed him: she could see it in his milky, half-seeing eyes. Every time she entered the library he studied her, followed her, interrogated her with stammering questions about her choice of reading material. Would she not, perhaps, prefer some courtly romance? That was what the young ladies craved these days. Or Mistress Egré’s latest guide to etiquette. He was not, after all, certain that Master Léac would approve of her choice of books.
Meracad stifled a sigh, pressing down a time-stained page to reveal a fresh chapter in the empire’s glorious history. Would he pass on details of her reading habits to her father, she wondered? Would she now find herself forbidden to enter the library? Colvé was a maze. She ran along its avenues, only to find them sealed.
“I thought it was you.” The voice pulled her from a world of battles and sieges and back into the cool, musty reality of the library. Frowning, she raised her head and stared at Hal Thæc who had planted herself on the opposite side of the desk.
“I’m sorry,” Meracad said, her fingers fidgeting with the edges of the parchment. “I didn’t see you.”
Hal Thæc offered her a lop-sided grin in response. “Must be a good book.”
“It is – The Imperial Chronicles.”
“The Chronicles?” Hal feigned a yawn. “They made us read some of those when I was a ward.”
“You didn’t enjoy them, I take it?”
“Well I wouldn’t read them out of choice.”
Meracad closed the book, running her fingers along the impressions upon its spine. “So if you’re not fond of reading, what are you doing in a library?”
Folding her hands behind her head, Hal leant against the backrest of the chair. “It’s cool in here.” Her blue eyes danced with irony. “And it’s hot out there.”
Meracad smiled in spite of herself. The duellist appeared calmer, less frantic than she had done a few days before at Remigius’s party. Cropped, coal-black hair threw the paleness of her skin into relief. Her long-limbed, wiry frame was wrapped in leather vest and trousers.
“The public baths are the place to cool off, I believe,” Meracad said.
“I’ve tried them. They’re full of courtiers.”
“Oh yes. I’d heard you had an aversion to courtiers.”
Hal leant forward, her bare arms forming a frame upon which to rest her chin. “Really? Who told you that?”
The conversation was already sliding into treacherous terrain. Meracad shrugged. “I thought it was common knowledge. You left the court because you couldn’t stand it.”
“I left the court in order to duel.”
The librarian limped forward, hobnails clipping on the polished marble of the floor. Hal raised her head, acknowledging him, Meracad noticed, with a provocative grin.
“Mistress Thæc,” the old man began, “you seem to be making a habit of turning the library into your own private forum.”
“I was sharing my appreciation of The Chronicles with Miss Léac,” she replied, her voice low and lazy.
“Miss Léac’s devotion to the library is admirable. She comes here to read!”
“Miss Léac is to be admired, I agree.”
The librarian turned on his heel and stamped away, fuming. Meracad grew uncomfortably aware of the blush which now worked its way up her neck, and of Hal’s steady gaze.
The duellist leant forward as if conspiring against the librarian. “Why do you love to read so much?” She asked, tapping a finger upon the cover of The Chronicles. Meracad smiled, sensing that the conversation was back on safer ground.
“To take myself beyond this cess-pit of a city.”
The duellist’s eyes rounded in surprise. “You hate it so much?”
Meracad felt her pulse quicken. No one, she had learnt, was to be trusted ─ not maids, dancing tutors, librarians, servants. Not senators, courtiers or her father’s fellow merchants. Gossip ran rife as plague around the city. A single word whispered in a moment of forgetfulness would work its way back to her father’s house. So why did she now find herself so desperate to reveal it all ─ all the misery and frustration ─ to this strange woman?
“Don’t all prisoners hate their cells?” The words slipped out as if on their own accord. And once out, they couldn’t be unsaid.
Hal’s sharp features softened, the easy smile dropped from her face, she ran her fingers through her hair. “Your prison is in here, Meracad.” She put her fingertips to her temples. “Within, not without.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“Why easy? We live in the same city, don’t we? We’re bound by the same rules.”
“Not you. You’re of noble birth. Your privileges are assumed ─ were assumed until you left court. My father clawed his way up to wealth and position. He expects my appreciation ─ he demands my respect.”
The smile returned to Hal’s lips. She stretched with fluid grace. “So you’ll simply do as you’re told then? Lie to yourself that these books offer you freedom, however fake that freedom really is? You’ll marry who you’re told to marry and move from one prison to the next?”
“It might get better.”
The librarian was hurrying towards them again, huffing and snorting like a small, irate dragon.
“Miss Thæc, I must ask you to leave! This is a library, not a public house.”
“Well I’m certain Miss Léac would never find herself in a public house,” Hal drawled.
Meracad glared at her, resenting the jibe, wishing Hal gone and at the same time willing her to stay.
Hal rose but kept both hands flat on the desk as she stared down at the merchant’s daughter, her eyes flecked with a cool arrogance. The librarian put a hand to her arm, guiding her away.
“I don’t expect to see you in here soon, Miss Thæc.”
“I don’t expect to return. But if Miss Léac wishes to discuss the empire’s history with me some more, she knows where to find me.”
“Why would I want to find you?” Meracad called out to Hal’s departing back.
The duellist turned round and shrugged. “I have no idea.”
The doors opened, rays of sun channelling through the library’s dusty haze, and for a moment Meracad saw Hal’s sleek form silhouetted against the light. Then the doors slammed shut and all was silence.
“My apologies, Miss Léac.” The librarian bustled forward once more, smoothing his hands down his apron as if to wipe them clean. “The woman knows no bounds, it would seem.”
“No, Sir. She doesn’t,” murmured Meracad, gnawing on a nail. A sudden wave of disappointment descended upon her, like clouds cancelling out a sunny day. The Imperial Chronicles no longer seemed a haven of romance and adventure to which she might escape. Grimacing, she pushed the volume back towards the librarian. “My father will be expecting me. I had better go.”
“Should I keep the book for your return?” His gaze was, she felt, just a little too intrusive.
“No, Sir. That won’t be necessary.”
Meracad threaded her way between the reading desks, eager to escape the suffocating gloom of the library. What had appeared a place of refuge now seemed just one more closed avenue of the maze, an illusion of freedom. Pushing open the door she lost herself amongst the dizzying play of courtiers, merchants, street-hawkers, of children, senators and thieves, the heat so intense it carried almost solid weight. She peered up and down the street but the duellist had disappeared. Biting her lip, Meracad set off in the direction of home, confused and alone
So I’m delighted to be able to confirm that all three parts of The Duellist Series will be available to buy on Amazon as of 18th February, together with updated covers.
Set against a backdrop of political intrigue, epic battles and adventure, The Duellist Series follows the lives and loves of three women who risk their lives for freedom.
A disinherited young aristocrat, Hal Thæc forsakes her place at court to earn her living as a duellist. All of that changes when Hal falls in love with Meracad Léac, the freedom-craving daughter of a rich merchant. Meracad’s father will stop at nothing to ensure his own wealth and position, and plans to marry Meracad to Bruno Nérac, a powerful northern lord. Hal’s world is about to be thrown into chaos when she sets out to save the woman she loves.
The descendant of ancient emperors, Leda Nérac has finally come into her birthright: the wealthy northern city of Dal Reniac. Yet power brings new responsibilities and dangers. After the Emperor dies, his nephew Castor claims the imperial throne, instigating a reign of terror. Will Leda survive the bitter conflict which ensues?
I’ll be posting free chapters of the books, blog posts, details of discounts and perhaps even a reading of one of the chapters before the release, so stay tuned.
Moreover, the trilogy will also be available to purchase as a set together short story The Invitation:
This seems to be something of a new direction for Rob May’s fantasy series, which started with the Dragon Killer books. Rather than focus on the main character of earlier instalments (Kal Moonheart), The Runaway Knight focuses on a few unlikely adventurers who unwittingly find themselves on the trail of the same ancient enemy. Kal herself is back and fighting like the pro we already know her to be, forced out of self-imposed exile when her name appears on what could be a hit list. Out on the barren steppe, however, we are introduced to a new unlikely hero, Temus Sansar, who forsakes his destiny as his tribe’s chief in exchange for adventure. And in the frozen city of Zorronov, young queen Alexa refuses to be manipulated by her advisers, embarking on a dangerous journey to protect her people. The story moves along at the same breathless pace as the previous books, but this is far more along the lines of epic fantasy, with the hint of a quest, the real presence of dragons and monsters, and a whole host of wonderful secondary characters from the conniving Lieutenant Dogwood to power craving twins Marla and Meeka Firehand. A really entertaining read which promises many more adventures to come.
It’s been quite a journey, but Leda is now finished at last! It’ll remain on Wattpad while I’m editing it, and will be available on Amazon in the new year.
So…if you like any of the following: lesbian characters, duelling, windswept fortresses, tyrannical emperors, swashbuckling adventure, high jinks on the high seas, moorland, bisexual princes, hairy highlanders, more moorland, battle scenes, devious thieves, political coups, mystery, excitement, anguish and triumph…then there might just be something in it for you!
Read it for free here:
You know that joy you have when you first discover what it means to read for pleasure as a kid? That sense of losing yourself in another person’s imagination, of finding yourself so invested in their characters that you’re willing them on: that they become, if only for a brief moment, part of the fabric of your own mental world? This is precisely the joy I experienced reading The Mystic Marriage, the sequel to Heather Rose Jones’ first novel in The Alpennia series, Daughter of Mystery.
Jones has created a society in which the strange and the recognisable collide – the gentility and brutality of the nineteenth century twinned with its fantasy other. And in that space of historical otherness miracles really do happen, alchemy is ‘the great art’ and the supernatural is seamlessly woven into the politics and culture of Alpennian life. And – even more amazingly – those seams don’t show. It’s testament to Jones’ skills as a researcher that her stories leap out the page at you with such immediacy that you begin to forget Alpennia is a made up nation – an imaginary central European state with one foot in the political machinations of the countries which surround it.
But then again, you don’t just read fantasy books to marvel at the realism of their projected landscapes. You encounter them and engage with them through their characters. And this time, the author sets up an unlikely pairing: scandalous, flighty Jeanne – Vicomtesse de Cherdillac – and the austere, tragic figure of Antuniet Chazillen, desperate to clear her family’s name after the dishonour brought upon it by her brother. Emotionally worlds apart, the two women gradually come to a position of mutual understanding, respect and love. Their stories are closely bound to those of Barbara and Margarit, the main characters from Daughter of Mystery – and as the disparate strands of narrative are drawn together, the novel unfolds at a breathtaking pace with the jeopardy piled on right up to the final pages. It’s spellbinding writing, propelling the reader into an adventure which never ceases to excite and entertain. Highly recommended.
It’s quite hard to explain how much I loved this book. Let’s just say I’d already bought the sequel before finishing Daughter of Mystery simply because I knew I’d be paying another visit to Alpennia shortly.
The novel is an exquisitely crafted romance, deftly paced and with engaging characters, exciting enough to keep you turning the page, cerebral enough to get you thinking deeply about the culture and politics of the world – or rather the country – which Heather Rose Jones has created.
Set in an imaginary central European state at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the narrative pivots around the actions of two young women brought together by the stipulations of an old aristocrat’s will. The rules of social hierarchy seem an insurmountable barrier to their love, and yet Margarit – an ingénue and burfro or bourgeois – finds herself struggling to understand the feelings she develops for her armin or private duellist. The novel also explores by proxy the way in which women of this period were denied anything approaching a meaningful education or intellectual fulfilment and stimulation, forced into culturally ordained roles which proved restrictive and demeaning.
The fantasy element of this novel is fascinating. The working of miracles and invocation of saints carry beyond the realm of the mystical in Alpennian society, having a tangible impact on the everyday lives, the politics and the traditions of the nation. Margarit’s abilities as a vidator, capable both of perceiving and working miracles brings risk as much as privilege. In pursuing her scholarly interests, she finds herself plunged into a world of deceit and intrigue which threatens to destroy her and those she loves.
The world building is superlative – I never felt that I was being spoon-fed when I read this novel. The author fleshes out sufficient space for the reader to make sense of Alpennia as both a reflection of 19th century Europe and its ‘other’ – a realm of fantasy in which our awareness of religion and history might be turned on its head. The prose style both challenged and entertained, and I found myself unable to stop turning the pages as the narrative reached its climax. Which means I’m going to have to give it another read to pick up on anything I might have missed. But first I’m off to read The Mystic Marriage – part two of the Alpennia series.