If you enjoy stories laced with political scheming, you'll love Besieged. The world of The Outcast Chronicles contains two races, the true-men or Mieren and the T'En or Wyrds. There are many more true-men than T'En, mostly because the latter rarely breed true. Instead they bear the half-blood Malaunje, marked by mulberry eyes and six fingers and toes and copper hair. The T'En possess powerful mental gifts and the ability to interact with the empyrean plane and if necessary to battle its horrific monsters. These abilities, their difference in appearance and their longevity, the T'En are both feared and despised by the true-men and have largely retreated to their island stronghold called the Celestial City. Enough fodder for conflict there to start from. But Daniells doesn't leave it at that; there is trouble afoot in the true-men kingdoms as King Charald of Chalcedonia, a disturbed and cruel despot, sets out to conquer the world and create an empire. In addition, there is unrest in T'En society, a society split in Brotherhoods and Sisterhoods, where children have to be given up to the Sisterhoods to raise and only the boys are returned to the Brotherhoods after seventeen years. This division is due to the differences between the male and the female gifts, which can only clash or bind, unless they are rigidly suppressed and adult T'En avoid each other. At least, that is what the T'En believe to be the reason for the covenant, which regulates their lives. Everything in T'En society is about gaining stature, both individually and for the clan-like Brother- and Sisterhoods, which leads to scheming, conspiracy and violence.
To carry off all the politicking you need strong characters, who can lead the reader through the maze of differing sides and keep the storylines straight. While Daniells delivers numerous viewpoints throughout the novel, the most important and consistent ones are those of Sorne and Imoshen. Sorne, a half-blood wyrd, son to King Charald, is raised as a weapon to destroy the Wyrds and we follow him from his birth to adulthood. Sorne is a likeable youth and while raised in isolation, he isn't raised to be a country bumpkin and he definitely isn't innocent. I loved that he decided that something strange was going on and to find out what it was. In contrast, Imoshen, is raised in ignorance of her society, even if she is allowed to read Sagora scientific texts, and is a complete innocent. She is unaware of the in-fighting, the betrayals, the rules and the cut-throat politics of T'En society and once she reaches the Celestial City, she has a hard time fitting in. Sorne and Imoshen are both outsiders looking in and as such are a good window into the world of both races. They're both likeable, but flawed and easy to relate to for the reader. By jumping forward in time, sometimes by several years, sometimes by several months - in a similar manner as Peter V. Brett does in The Painted Man - Daniells allows us to follow Sorne and Imoshen from birth to adulthood, stopping off at important moments and moving on in time once the dust has settled. I really liked this technique and it left me feeling more connected to the characters without having to slog through all the childhood years in secluded settlements.
Having created wonderful and sympathetic characters in Sorne, Imoshen, Frayvia, Valendia, Reoden and Graelen among others has also created some deliciously dislikeable characters. By which I mean, not that they are evil, though some of them are, Charald first among them, but that they really are just awful persons. One example is Vittoryxe, the overly ambitious gift tutor of Imoshen's Sisterhood. She is so blindly ambitious and self-centred, willing to stop at nothing to achieve her goals that any sympathy one might feel for her is swept away the next moment she speaks either out loud or in internal dialogue. The same goes for High Priest Oskane and his successor, I started off liking them, but as the story developed and their motivations and true characters were revealed, I found myself disliking them intensely. It's nice to find characters who aren't necessarily likeable, but aren't by definition evil or a bad guy.
In Besieged Daniells has created a rich and complex world and used it as the stage for an engrossing story. So engrossing in fact, that at one point I found myself emerging from the story only to find that I'd lost several hours and I needed a refill of my drink. I do have to say, I gravitated to the T'En chapters more than to the true-men ones, as I found the T'En culture fascinating, but I was never tempted to leaf ahead to the next T'En chapter and skip a true-men chapter. This first entry in The Outcast Chronicles was a delight to read and I'm glad I already have book two, Exile, on the TBR-pile ready to go.
This book was sent to me for review by the publisher.