Title: The River Kings' Road
Author: Liane Merciel
Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge
First Sentence: "Brys Tarnell was not a pious man."
Summary (From book flap):
A fragile period of peace between the eternally warring kingdoms of Oakharn and Langmyr is shattered when a surprise massacre fueled by bloodmagic ravages the Langmyrne border village of Willowfield, killing its inhabitants -- including a visiting Oakharne lord and his family -- and leaving behind a scene so grisly that even the carrion eaters avoid its desecrated earth. But the dead lord's infant heir has survived the carnage -- a discovery that entwines the destinies of Brys Tarnell, a mercenary who rescues the helpless and ailing babe, and who enlists a Langmyr peasant, a young mother herself, to nourish and nurture the child of her enemies as they travel a dark, perilous road ... Odosse, the peasant woman whose only weapons are wit, courage, and her fierce maternal love -- and who risks everything she holds dear to protect her new charge ... Sir Kelland, a divinely blessed Knight of the Sun, called upon to unmask the architects behind the slaughter and avert war between ancestral enemies ... Bitharn, Kelland's companion on his journey, who conceals her lifelong love for the Knight behind her flawless archery skills -- and whose feelings may ultimately be Kelland's undoing ... and Leferic, an Oakharne Lord's bitter youngest son, whose dark ambitions fuel the most horrific acts of violence. As one infant's life hands in the balance, so too does the fate of thousands, while deep in the forest, a Maimed Witch practices an evil bloodmagic that could doom them all...
My Two Cents:
I love fantasies in the epic, sweeping, Lord of the Rings style, so when I had the chance to review this one, I grabbed it!
This book, Merciel's first and the first in a planned series, is what I call a "quiet" fantasy. It's obviously set in another world, as there's talk of magic and witches and all sorts of other things, but the setting is not so remote that you have to think really hard to conjure up the fantastical elements. In other words, there are no out-there races of beings or green skies or anything. This is a book I could very easily see taking place back during Medieval times, as the overall setting is very similar.
Merciel has a really strong narrative voice. Her writing is descriptive without being overly flowery. Much of the time, it seemed as if the story was being told to me, perhaps by one of the bards of old. At least, I like to think of it that way.
There are so many characters in this book, it was hard to pick just one as a favorite. After much deliberation, I decided that Bitharn, the young woman often mistaken for a young man due to her archery skills, is my favorite. I liked that she wasn't all tomboy or all girly-girl; she was enough of a mix of both to really endear her to me as a character.
The story was an interesting one: It begins with a mass murder from which a little boy is rescued. A knight must assure the safety of the infant, as the child is the heir to a lordship. From there, the story branches out to encompass several major characters scattered far and wide throughout the realm, and their stations in life range from peasant to knight to Blessed (I think of them as something akin to monks) to lords. It's a sweeping tale, and Merciel leaves enough cliffhangers -- but still answers enough questions -- to make the reader want to read the next book in the series.
The breadth of the story was also one of its weak points, I thought. Since there were so many characters doing so many different things, it was hard to really get to know any one of them intimately. Sure, I liked a lot of the characters and I felt that I knew enough about them that I could make judgments as to what type of people they were, but I really would've liked to have spent more time with a few of the characters instead of seeing the story from so many different viewpoints. I hope that future books in this series focus more closely on specific characters.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy, and those who enjoy tales set in realms of old. This is a really enjoyable read.
Note: This book was sent to me by Simon and Schuster for the purpose of this blog tour. Receiving a free copy in no way influenced my review of this book.