Sasha (A Trial of Blood & Steel) Paperback – 27 Oct 2009
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The action was good. The fight sequences were not tremendously overdone. The heroine wasn't invincible, and I liked that. People died. People suffered. There was a certain realism in the portrayal of war.
Altogether, this was a good book.
Sasha fights battles with steel and her sharp wit, and also fights to be taken seriously by the men who rule her society. It's all written very well and it never feels patronizing. It also doesn't feel as if the writer set out to write for a specific demographic rather than writing a story that I think could just as easily be enjoyed by one demographic as another.
The only problem with the book is that it suffers from the fantasy novel trope of having hundreds of hard to pronounce names all thrown in your face at once with the expectation that you'll remember them all and understand which country hates which, which name is a name of a person or a place or a religion or a foreign language word. Towards the end it's certainly mug easier to see where everything is going, but the beginning suffers from several expository paragraphs about the different countries, provinces, religions and peoples that is exceedingly confusing.
I think that the confusion is such a small part of this novel, however, that I wish I could give it four and a half stars instead of just four!
This is the first book in a tetralogy, and as such, there is a fair amount of set-up for succeeding books here. The cast of characters is large, and sometimes hard to keep straight, even if it is mainly in the character secondary to this story. There is a large amount of world-building, which is done well, but gets in the way of the action a few times. Main characters are written well. Sasha is not just a strong woman warrior, she has her doubts, she questions her own ability, and she makes mistakes. She learns to rely on those around her as she grows into her role as the unifying force leading a rebel army. The story moves along well, weaving around the details setting up the rest of the series. The swordplay is good, and the style of fighting Sasha learns brings to mind a Japanese type of discipline. More important, it suits a female warrior, who, if you are honest, is always going to be at a disadvantage in a slash-and-dash style of swordplay. It is easily believable that Sasha, a woman, can defeat men much larger and stronger than she is.
There were a few things I found confusing. First is the serrin, one of the races living in the kingdom. There are references to how they view "humans", implying that they are not fully human, but it is not really explained. We finally meet a few about three-quarters of the way through the book, and they seem, for lack of a better term, rather fae-like. Another problem for me was the distinctions between the various races, some of whom are tied to the country they live in and some who cross boundaries, and the different religions. They seem to blur together at times, and I eventually stopped trying to figure it out.
Despite the above, I found the book intriguing and a good read. It should appeal to fans of non-magical fantasy and sweeping history.
The main character does develop over the course of the story, as she learns to take on her duties and accept the consequences of her actions.
The land is well-developed, and the people varied. Some people don't seem to get the point of the story, but as is said in the book, some live in wells, quite content with their walls around them. Best to read the story without looking for a real world meaning to it.
Sasha is a wonderful character, not surprising as I see much of my wife's stubbornness and determination in her.
The story made me smile, laugh, cry and want vengeance just as much as a poor man who has lost little brother to murder. Frankly, that's a good story.
Edit - Having now read the entire quartet, I can definitely recommend the series. It is not Black and White, it's very gray. If you don't like that, then don't bother. Also don't bother if you have an issue with the f word that rhymes with duck. You'll hear it a lot. Book 3 is good, but depressing. Otherwise, if you like nuanced characters that aren't good or bad, this is a brilliant fantasy series to try.