Where do I start? On the surface Rys Rising appears to be your description-heavy epic fantasy adventure, but beneath are characters that you can’t help but be interested in as you follow ambition, vengeance, desire, or vision. It’s multiple POV, the characters’ trials often meet with greater events in the world, and there is much at stake.
What’s at stake?
The Kwellstan Sect is the finest order of magicians of the superior and arrogant Tabre race, though the term ‘power-users’ may be more apt since the author doesn’t use ‘magicians’ much. The sect uses human society, keeping it controlled, and humans worship it in turn. In Jingten Valley, the sect currently takes advantage of the magical power of nature where a race of blue-skinned Rys live and have a natural connection with their valley and its waters. The Tabre are threatened by this potential power and oppress the Rys, keeping them in low positions in ordered society, beneath even the humans.
Dacian, the male Rys magician – the one who hopes
Dacian is a male Rys magician who hopes of a day when Rys can stand beside Tabre, and his Kwellstan Sect teacher Halor nurtures this dream. Despite Halor’s good intentions, his loyalty to Dacian is tested against his subservience to the sect. Therefore, the reality is not so simple for Dacian because he is seen by those high up in the Kwellstan Sect as a dangerous experiment. When Dacian surpasses his teachers in tests their conviction of his danger is confirmed.
We follow Dacian’s fight to prove his race’s innocence to the sect while putting aside his anger, for the greater good. As an acolyte of the sect, he is in the best position to effect change. Throughout Rys Rising Dacian’s control is impeccable, and yet the Tabre do not relax their yoke. If anything, they tighten it. You had to ask yourself whether Dacian was going to give up, lose control, or if he was going to win the moral high ground over the sect. The ‘tests’ they put him through were cruel and sardonic. They were so powerful and enthralling on the book’s page that they actually made me angry when attacks on Dacian’s individuality and independence were dished out by senior sect magicians who show a civilised face to the rest of society.
Onja, the alluring and rebellious Rys
The first Rys we are introduced to is actually the beautiful, alluring, and mystical Onja. Her femininity, beauty, and racial difference seem to cast a spell on Lin Tohs tribe leader Gendahl when he first meets her at a lake, having just lost his entire tribe and family. Onja heals him and protects him, and they develop mutual respect since. They keep in touch via a magical orb she gives Gendahl, which becomes the source of mysticism that he uses to get revenge on the Patharki tribe leader antagonist who massacred his tribe. The orb also helps Gendahl in his attempts to become accepted as a Kez outlaw barbarian: providing legitimate guarding services to rulers and kingdoms in the dangerous wild lands in between.
Onja wanders many forbidden places, towards the untamed human civilisations in the West. Unlike Dacian, she is known by the sect as an outcast and bad Rys, and her attractiveness and disregard for rules make her an ideal subject of punishment. Where Dacian keeps to the strict teachings of the sect, Onja isn’t afraid to experiment with magic. She and most Rys aren’t confident the sect will show anything but disdain to the Rys.
Rys Rising is about challenging hidden forms of cruelty and fear as mentioned above, and challenging the rules we enforce in civilised (medieval?) society, such as with women being forced to put aside their preferences and marry enemies to create alliances in wars that were made by men. A good example of this is the daughter of the Sabar’Uto tribe’s King, Demeda, who is closeted inside and forced to have her face and femininity hidden lest it arouse forbidden passions. Like Onja, Demeda yearns for a freedom outside the control of rules and ‘civilised’ society if only so that she can choose her life, rather than live a restricted one as one of the wives of an enemy king. Demeda is actually a sub-character and yet it’s a prime example of how the author is capable of inserting life and personality into all of her characters. Many of her most fascinating characters are troublemakers who defy laws and find themselves in battles or alliances. It’s a refreshing twist on those corrupt groups who make laws only so that they serve their purposes.
Tracy Falbe is also a master of show and tell. She never inundates the reader with unnecessary or background events – there is a short summary and then the emphasis is firmly on the main scenes, easing the reader into the important events and making the events run-on naturally, even after a considerable, and yet pleasurable, break. I can’t praise Rys Rising highly enough. There is much adventure, emotion, and colour in the world. Hopefully I’ll read another Tracy Falbe novel in the future.