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Sasha (Trial of Blood & Steel) [Paperback]

Joel Shepherd
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
RRP: 10.27
Price: 10.22 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

27 Oct 2009 Trial of Blood & Steel (Book 1)
Spurning her royal heritage to be raised by the great warrior, Kessligh, her exquisite swordplay astonishes all who witness it. But Sasha is still young, untested in battle and often led by her rash temper. In the complex world of Lenayin loyalties, her defiant wilfulness is attracting the wrong kind of attention.
Lenayin is a land almost divided by its two faiths: the Verenthane of the ruling classes and the pagan Goeren-yai, amongst whom Sasha now lives. The Goeren-yai worship swordplay and honour and begin to see Sasha as the great spirit—the Synnich—who will unite them. But Sasha is still searching for what she believes and must choose her side carefully.
When the Udalyn people—the symbol of Goeren-yai pride and courage—are attacked, Sasha will face her moment of testing. How will she act? Is she ready to lead? Can she be the saviour they need her to be?

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Sasha (Trial of Blood & Steel) + 23 Years on Fire (Cassandra Kresnov Novels)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 423 pages
  • Publisher: Pyr (27 Oct 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159102787X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591027874
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.2 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 970,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Series 6 Dec 2012
By sophia
Format:Paperback
All four books of the series are amazing. Excellent read. From adventure, to romance, to potical intrigue, all is contained in this amazing series
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  52 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars New Series 7 Nov 2009
By J. Jones - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I loved Joel Shepherd's Cassandra Kresnov Science Fiction novels. With Sasha he left the Science Fiction world and moved to Fantasy. Sasha starts slower and did not catch me as quickly as The Cassandra Kresnov novels. Much of the book is taken up with setting up the complex world and the characters needed for the next books in the series. There is action and adventure, stress and tension, combined with complex family and clan interaction. While one problem is solved the stage is set to further drama. This is a good start for a new series and I look forward to the next books.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great epic fantasy 12 Aug 2010
By Stefan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Sasha is the first volume in A TRIAL OF BLOOD AND STEEL, a projected 4-book fantasy series by Australian author Joel Shepherd, who previously also published a science fiction trilogy called the CASSANDRA KRESNOV series. His novels have been available in Australia for several years, and are now being released in the US thanks to Pyr, with Petrodor, the next volume in A TRIAL OF BLOOD AND STEEL, due out in March 2010. Based on the strength of Sasha, I expect Joel Shepherd to become a well-known name in US fantasy circles soon.

The land of Lenayin is spiritually divided into two different religions. The Goeren-yai faith, which is the original Lenayin religion and embraced by most of the common people, has a pagan flavor, its adherents guided by spirits and focused on strength and honor. The Verenthane belief more closely resembles a traditional organized religion and counts the vast majority of Lenayin's nobility amongst its followers. When the sole remaining Goeren-yai High Lord kills a neighboring province's Verenthane leader, a complex conflict begins that threatens to tear apart the fragile balance keeping Lenayin together.

In this setting we encounter the novel's fascinating heroine, Sasha (short for Sashandra), a younger daughter of the Lenay king who has abandoned her royal privileges to live among the Goeren-yai and study svaalverd fighting techniques with Kessligh, the hero of a past war with neighboring Cherrovan. She has also adopted the Nasi-Keth, a third belief system that follows the teachings of the non-human serrinim. Sasha is an interesting protagonist -- a supremely talented sword fighter, but temperamental, stubborn, and torn in different directions by her desire to lead a simple life studying swordwork on the one hand, and the call of history and duty on the other hand... especially when it becomes clear that the Goeren-yai believe she is guided by the Synnich spirit that will liberate them from Verenthane oppression.

Complex as all of this may sound, it's only a very crude sketch of the intricate and frankly huge fantasy world Joel Shepherd has created in A TRIAL OF BLOOD AND STEEL. The novel introduces or hints at several other plot threads, and the country of Lenayin, which this entire novel is set in, barely takes up 5% of the map. It's very clear that there is a huge amount of space and story left for the next novels in the series to explore and develop, but at the same time, Sasha is a self-contained story. While the novel starts out slow due to the understandable need for some basic exposition early on, it quickly ratchets up the intensity to the point where I had trouble putting it down, and reaches an explosive conclusion.

One minor criticism: Sasha has a LOT of characters, and unfortunately, several of them have quite similar names. Not counting the historical names, the cast list has 66 names, and almost 50 of those contain the letter Y: Jaryd, Daryd, Garys... Tyrun, Tarryn, Tarynt... the Lords Usyn Telgar and Udys Varan... You get the idea. There's really nothing wrong with this in principle, but combined with the slower pace of the first few chapters, it makes this novel a bit harder to get into than it could be, and impatient readers may unfortunately lose interest and miss out on the big pay-off later on.

Aside from that minor point, I thought Sasha was excellent, especially given that this is Joel Shepherd's first fantasy novel. It offers a huge fantasy world, a fascinating heroine, heart-pounding descriptions of both small-scale sword fights and full-on warfare, several characters that genuinely grow and change, and -- maybe most importantly -- the hint that this is just the start of what could become a great series. While I wouldn't rank it quite as high as George R.R. Martin's A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, I think Sasha will go down very well with fans of that series because it shares some of its characteristics, including its huge scope and cast, its focus on politics and noble intrigue, and (at least in the early novels of ASoIaF) the almost complete absence of magic and mystical creatures. Based on the cover art of the recent Pyr edition (which, to my eyes, unfortunately resembles a screen capture of a bad video game and made more than one person ask me if this is a YA novel), I had low expectations for this novel, but those were quickly blown out of the water. Sasha is an excellent epic fantasy novel that promises great things for the rest of the series. Recommended.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read 3 Jun 2012
By James L. Gillaspy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In my opinion, the tetralogy, "A Trial of Blood and Steel," is the best epic fantasy series written by a modern author. And it has not one wit of magic.

The four novels, --"Sasha," "Petrodor," Tracato," and "Haven" - follow the adventures of a young swordswoman, Sasha, in peace, in the events leading up to war, in war, and in war's aftermath. Through it all she demonstrates extraordinary and unconventional skill with the sword as taught to her by her mentor Kessligh, an unbeaten swordsman and ex-commander-of-armies.

The larger story is that of the conflict between humans and a "different" kind of humans, the serrin, on a world that is not earth, but could be earth if, instead of the Neanderthal, a more gracile humanoid had evolved alongside homo sapiens.

At two-thousand plus pages, the tetralogy is epic, and the reader may be, at first, confused by the large number of nobles, commoners, races, cities, and nations that populate the novels, but persist. It's a great read.

In another review, I criticized the swordplay of Elizabeth Moon's Paksenarrion (I am a big fan of Elizabeth Moon otherwise) because the woman, Paks, won against men using male techniques. Even though the man are bigger, stronger, and, (assuming normal human physique) faster. In our world, men hold all the records in running, swimming, agility sports, and brute strength. I sport fence, and top level male fencers beat top level female fencers 99% of the time. This is not prejudice, it just is. Joel Shepherd solves this by introducing a type of fencing that is more Japanese than Western, as much aikido as swordplay, where the secret is placing your sword where your opponent's sword is not, never resisting your opponent's sword. It is extremely well done and believable. While a man trained in the same style might beat her, the stab and slash swordsmen she meets are baffled.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strong Characters, Difficult Plot 5 April 2011
By sarah - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Sasha is a bit of an oddity, it is hard to place it in a specific genre. It is almost a young adult coming of age story, but not quite. it has the feel, setting and sound of a fantasy story, but there are no elements of magic and no fantastic creatures in sight.

Sasha is the apprentice of great swordsman Kessligh, daughter of the King and a woman of her own making. She simply does not care what others thing, she follows her own heart and mind and thinks little of the consequences her actions bring. I thought Sasha was an exceptional character. She isn't perfect; she certainly has her faults, but that only makes her more intriguing. She does a great deal of growing up over the course of the story, mostly because she is forced to.

I loved all of the characters, mainly Sasha and Jayrd; a young heir to the lordship of Tyree. I was a particular fan of their relationship; theirs was a great friendship to watch unfold. At the start of the book they are both weary of one another, but as time progresses, they begin to understand, respect and enjoy one another.

I always struggle with high fantasy novels, trying to keep the names of different things straight. Now, like I said I always struggle a bit with these novels, but I thought my brain might explode while reading Sasha. There are an absolute plethora of characters and many of the names look and sound a lot of like. For example there is Terjellyn, Teriyan, Tarynt, Captain Tyrun, Lord Tymeth Pelyn, Tarryn, Lord Rashyd, Lord Rydysh, Lord Krayliss and Kessligh. I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. Do you see why I got a bit confused? To help with this, there is a series of maps and a complete list of characters with their nationality and brief description - a sort of cheat-sheet chart in the beginning of the book. I found myself flipping back to this a lot during the first half of the book, while I was still putting things together in my head. It got to be a bit distracting, but at least it helped me piece together exactly what was happening. I am not going to lie to you, I began to just keep reading through it, in hopes that I got the general idea. There are still parts, mainly dealing with the politics that I know went over my head. The characters and their relationships, on the other hand, are easy to follow and I wanted to understand them. But when the book went on a rampage about the intricate details of each territories' political standings and ambitions, I began to fog over. I understand that the author wanted to develop a complete world, but I think he went a bit overboard with the heavy things. For me, it definitely took away from the book - I enjoyed the characters enough to trudge through all the political mumbo-jumbo, but that might not be the case with every reader. This was a long book, I have no idea what the word count is, but there are 421 large pages (this is a huge paperback book) with tiny writing.

Although I had a few issues with the book I did enjoy it. Honestly, the characters were fascinating, entertaining and well-developed. The overall storyline was also remarkably well done. A great deal happens throughout the first book, but a lot of plot line is also setup for the sequel. Most of the characters go through a game changing event - so I am eager to see how they all deal with their new circumstances and outlooks on the world.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Arya, mixed with Joan of Arc and made unsympathetic 20 May 2011
By Mark Andrew Edwards - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
So, you say you want to read a whole novel about Arya of House Stark? This is your book. Sasha is Arya with all of Arya's good qualities, like her loyalty and love for her family, removed. For some readers, that sounds delightful. To me, it made for a book I hated reading.

Usual cavets up front: I don't know Joel Shepherd or very much about him, I don't know his politics or his creed. I read the first of his Cassandra Kresnov novels, and he's a Pyr author so I was disposed to like the book before I started reading it. I am not a published author but I do write fantasy novel with an aim towards getting there. I also am not a fan of the `girls with swords' fantasy genre but I can be swayed if the book make me like a character and helps me suspend disbelief.

The is one of the Post-Martin fantasy novels and where it succeeds, it does so by adapting well to the new fantasy tropes that George R. R. Martin popularized. The world is gritty, people have complex motivations for what they do, magic is mostly-absent. However, instead of just politics, we also get political correctness, which is less welcome.

First the good:
Joel Shepherd has crafted an interesting, low-magic world. The political maneuvering in the kingdom is the novel's strongest point, it may well hook you. He has a wonderful gift for detail and description, a few fight scenes aside. The Goeren-yai are an interesting Celtic/Scottish/Irish pastiche. There is some good dialog and a few sops at evenhandedness towards some of the social and philosophical issues that lurk in this novel.

The bad:
First and foremost we get told everything Sasha is feeling but we never get shown it. Heck, she doesn't even react to her banishment at the end of the book! That's the big literary flaw of the book. The main character, Sasha, starts the book as arrogant, spiteful and ungrateful. At the end of the book, she's exactly the same. Worse, since this is a tight 3rd person novel and we see most things for her POV, what we as the reader get is a constant air of contempt, dissatisfaction and irritability. These are the emotion that the author wants us to feel, apparently, since we never get any other emotions from Sasha. This was a wearying book to read. I had to take breaks and read some Lord Peter Whimsey mysteries just to clear my palate. The other characters are even less developed. The serrin are all perfect, feminist, progressive enlightened beings (no doubt they separate their garbage for recycling as well). The Goren-yi are all noble savages. The northern Verenthane are all treacherous and evil.

Mary Su..I mean, Sasha is 20 year old who feels more like a 16 year old brat. Only this brat is also the greatest swordswoman in the whole kingdom. The source of her power isn't magic, which I'll buy in a fantasy novel if it's well done, and it's not strength and unusual size, as with Brienne of Tarth in AGOT, it's a Kendo-sorta sword style that comes from the elven stand-ins, the Serrin. Anyone trained in this martial art, as Sasha is, can defeat any opponent. Which is nonsense if you've ever watched a kendo practicioner fight against a good sword-and-shield man. I tried hard to buy this, if all Sasha ever did was fight one-on-one duels of sword vs sword, I would see it. But when she moves to the battlefield, Joel Shepherd lost me. This is a world where Sasha never has to worry about wearing fifty pounds of armor, archers, spears, ropes, trampling warhorses or any of the other challenges a warrior would encounter on a battlefield.

Joel Shepherd is not George R. R. Martin, not yet. A lot of the things Martin pulled on in a Game of Thrones, escape the grasp of Mr. Shepherd. Both AGOT and Sasha have clear good guys and bad guys. For AGOT, it's house Lannister in Sasha it is both the Verenthane religion and the Northern provinces and nobles who follow that creed. And that's the first, but not biggest flaw in Sasha. Religion and the Verenthane religion (the Christianity straw man) is one of the main sources of conflict in the novel. Fine and good but all the virtue is on the side of the Goeren-yai animists or on the side of the atheistic Nasi-Keth, the philosophy governing the Mary-Sue race of the Serrin. We never see a devout and likeable devout Verenthane follower. Intolerance and bigotry is, of course, the worst thing ever. Unless your prejudiced against the Verenthane or against religion in general, which is ok, apparently. The cognitive dissonance of Sasha, railing against intolerance and bigotry while at the same time hating and being intolerant of the Northern clans and their religion, made me frustrated.

I could go on and on and I'm tempted to. There's so much, from the convenient fantasy birth control (without, of course, a realistic examination of what happens when one culture stops having children and their neighbors keep having 4-8 surviving to adulthood) to the way religion in general is treated. Let me leave you with one quote that I feel sums up the book. This is Sasha on Page 1 and on page 421. If you like it, you may like Sasha. I didn't.

(bottom of page 114 )"She gazed up at the lethal, gleaming edge, almost bloodless with the speed of her strike, and marveled at her own magnificence."
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