LastbornThis was another review request that languished on my to-read pile for a while. Author Rachel Forde contacted me via this blog with a short and sweet introduction and request. According to Amazon, the book was released in early July, and has already earned an accolade: the ePublishing Consortium‘s Writing Award. That last seems a little … contrived, and I’m reminded of an obscure quote from somewhere that at some point every author is burdened with an award… the implication that not many of them actually mean anything.

This book is billed as Young Adult, though given that the first scene puts the reader in the middle of a gruesome torture experience that takes one of the main protagonists to the very brink of death–and that gory experience is repeated again late in the book–along with the fact that the two teens who are the main characters really act more like adults throughout the story, makes me highly doubt that categorization.

From the cover to the editing, this read to me as a late draft of a decent work. There were quite a few missing words and misspellings (to say nothing of grammar and continuity issues), but I keep wanting to put it in a category with “Lord of the Rings”… so there is a lot of promise to the tale.

From the blurb:

Nara-Ya is a hard-fighting adolescent girl on the run from a powerful sorceress. Fate lands her in the company of her polar opposite, the soft-spoken Donovan Brennan, who is simultaneously struggling to lead a Resistance movement, regain a throne for a wronged King, and prevent a war between the land he lives in and the land of his birth.

Brennan walks a fine line between his principles and success; Nara-Ya, by contrast, knows what she has to do to survive, and circumstances shunt her toward the life of a fighter and warrior. However, as war looms, as her friendship with Donovan grows into something more, and as Nara-Ya is forced to confront her darker instincts, she begins to question her destiny, and is forced to make a decision that will alter the fate of their world.

The blurb makes me want to end it with an appropriately dramatic “dun, Dun, DUNH”, though that drama didn’t really convey in what I read. When I finished the book, my first comment was “huh.” It cut off so abruptly after having been alternately long-winded about place and activity descriptions, and exceedingly spare about relationship development and passage of time. As an example, the reader is left to guess at the depth of connection forged between Nara-Ya and Corran early on, on the basis of a simple paragraph:

As Nara-Ya learned, three months was a long time to travel on horseback, especially across a flat, featureless landscape with few diversions. It was hard to stay away from the main roads in a place where sources of clean water were both scarce and well-mapped; at least once a week they would spot a band of Urqaani slavers marching along a distant ridge, prisoners in tow, following the only practical routes through the desert.

Given the scope and scale of the story, it would have been very helpful to me, the reader, to have a glossary of fantastical beings, names, and places, and preferably a map to help me figure out which city was south and which was north, because it sure felt like they were criss-crossing the world on a regular basis, and I had a very hard time sorting out where they were in relation to where they had been. And if it took months to cross from where they began to the capital (via unicorn), the country must have been something on the scale of the Soviet Union… but then there are train rides that only take a few days, which shrinks the scale again. It left me a little perplexed, despite my willingness to suspend my disbelief on a regular basis.

All that said, the core of the story, a commentary on the relationship between being a pacifist and a warrior, as personified by a pair of protagonists who are inexplicably drawn to each other, lends meat to the drama. The careful mystery surrounding Nara-Ya and her abilities and destiny unfolds slowly and carries the main thread through the tale, while Donovan’s unwavering idealism is propped up by having been Chosen of a mystical being. Even so, his faith becomes a burden even he questions at the end, though he is rewarded with a sense of the meaning to come from his steadfastness.

One of the funniest quotes from Donovan came a third into the story when he proves his sharp-shooting ability:

“I’m a pacifist, not a vegetarian,” said Donovan.

Given my wavering, even a day after having finished this, I have to say there’s something to recommend to those who like matter-of-fact magic in their worlds, with a plethora of last-of-their-kind beings on whom Things of Great Portent hinge. I’m sure that most people aren’t as picky as I in catching errors and I have to give kudos to Forde for having chosen to dive off the deep end, publishing her first book through Amzon’s Digital Services and undertaking the promotion of her work. This story may not be something I’m enthusiastic about (last question… are Urqaani revenants/zombies or just a really disgusting species of grey-skinned nasties?!)–going for an epic fantasy with its own made-up languages, countries, and topography has to be very carefully handled to convey the details in such a way that all the important stuff sticks with the reader but doesn’t overwhelm them–but for a first novel that has set that scope as a goal, this came remarkably close to the mark, and I did enjoy my task.

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