Rys Rising by Tracy Falbe – 5/5 Stars

Rys Rising - paperback - front cover

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.

Rys Rising - paperback - back cover

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.

To summarise

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.

Tracy Falbe’s Website

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson – 4/5 Stars

The Broken Sword - front cover - alternative 1

‘Fathering a son on a female troll held captive in his dungeons, Imric exchanged the nonhuman babe for the true son of Orm the Jutlander. Thus, while Valgard the Changeling was raised as Orm’s son in the Lands of Men, the true son of the Jutlander, Skafloc, was reared to manhood in the twilight fields and whispering woods of timeless and shadowy Faerie…’

Though an epic fantasy reminiscent of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Poul Anderson did not borrow from Tolkien; The Broken Sword was published in the same year as The Fellowship of the Ring in 1954. Expect the usual elves, trolls, and goblins, but this time with a changeling twist. The infant son of Orm of Jutland has been substituted with the half-breed Valgard, son of elf-earl Imric and a female troll prisoner. Imric is behind all of it, but his motivations aren’t clear. Perhaps he wanted a human because they are stronger than elves and unlike them can withstand iron.

The Broken Sword - back coverAs they grow older, while the human Skafloc grows proficient in the magics, songs, and skills of Faerie under his foster father Imric, Valgard grows up within Orm’s household in England and is despised for his moody countenance. Dogs bark at his passage. Valgard’s anger grows and he excels at the Viking raids. It is apparent there is a division between him and his family but it’s not until he is ensnared and tricked by a beautiful young witch that he takes a path of bloodshed and murder. Fuelled by his strength and hatred of his division he does what the witch advises: to head towards Trollheim to win the favour of Troll King Illrede, for Valgard has learnt he is of troll and elf, not human, blood.

What follows is an epic battle for the elf homelands. In the troll versus elf conflict Valgard comes face-to-face with Skafloc, who bears his likeness. The fated ‘brothers’ pit their skills against one another, and it’s Skafloc’s Faerie against Valgard’s ‘berserkergang’. Their fates are destined to clash time and again, and are intertwined with the future of Faerie and the Lands of Men. Also in the midst of this is a tragic forbidden love story between a survivor of Orm’s household, the sorrowful Freda, and Skafloc. Their love is made all the more perilous when the elf woman Leea yearns for Skafloc’s love.

My only criticism is that while the stakes and the characters were introduced well, how they came to the conclusion was mired in endless descriptions and irrelevant sub-characters.

What an epic read! It certainly contrasts with Lord of the Rings, but is quicker, more tragic, and violent. I’d call this a classic. If you like Lord of the Rings, read it now! The mystery ‘the broken sword’ itself represents to me a broken or stray soul, a theme that resonates with Valgard most obviously, but also Skafloc and the elf women.

Poul Anderson’s books on Amazon

Phoenix by Daccari Buchelli – 4/5 Stars

Phoenix by Daccari Buchelli

‘True, privacy was rare in her world, her duties closing in on her youth and what little freedom she had left.’

‘It always felt as though the light would burn her. Some days she wished it would or that her powers would simply envelop her in flame. She revelled in the idea of being allowed to simply melt away, therefore escaping this miserable life.’

Princess Violetta of the Flame Realm has come of age, and men of status have begun to notice her. There’s Xyhoni, the family friend, and there’s the charming Prince Ryore of the Winter Realm, son of Emperor Jugan. When tragedy strikes and Violetta’s brother and mother are killed, she remains close to her father King Eagan, and is suspicious of the Winter Realm. What makes matters more difficult is that even though she can’t quite forget about Xyhoni, she is growing more attracted to Prince Ryore. And Prince Ryore believes he has found his one true love at last…

Author Daccari Buchelli writes with a mastery of language embellishment that is befitting of the authentic fantasy setting and experience. Sentences are elegant, unobtrusive, and constructed with a fine touch. The author has a grasp for the characters’ feelings that make them passionate and interesting. These feelings give rise to wants and motives, and combine with mystical objects to create a fantasy goal. I became immersed in learning about the thoughts of Ryore and Violetta. Chapter after chapter they became more interesting and realistic, and the fantasy world blossomed about them with colour, duty, and romance.

Criticism: honestly, the first three chapters didn’t pull me into the story. The reason was that I was disoriented and this feeling repeated often; the sense of location and stability in the rapidly changing setting made it difficult to get my bearings. The way the setting was introduced was not even or at the right pace. Even my own writing has been criticised for this reason. A few more sentences to bring forward the atmosphere of the setting when it changed, or a few more scene breaks might have helped to indicate the change of setting.

One of the main characters behaved out of character in Chapter Sixteen, in a way that suspended my belief, which marked a different direction for the narrative. Some paragraphs were double the length I would personally have preferred. A few misspelled words: ‘baited’ and ‘bated’, ‘facet’ and ‘faucet’, and one I wasn’t sure about – ‘intendent’ and ‘attendant’.

Overall, I read the entirety of Phoenix with wild anticipation. The writing was written elegantly and the setting felt like a fantasy world I had actually stepped into. While I was reading about the engrossing characters I didn’t care where the plot was going. I’m not a reader of romance, but the exaggerated displays of affection between two of the main characters impressed me. It was quite easy and enjoyable to digest multiple chapters of Phoenix at a time. I’d strongly recommend Phoenix to all fantasy readers, especially those who like high fantasy, classical fantasy, adventure, and romance.

Author Daccari Buchelli’s website