Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review: Sword of the Guardian by Merry Shannon

Sword of the Guardian
(Legends of Ithyria)

by Merry Shannon
Available in paperback
and Kindle eBook
Sword of the Guardian by Merry Shannon is fantastic. A fantasy set in a mythical kingdom with a weak king, a lot of political problems, and dark forces moving under the surface to take the throne, I loved this book. It's also far longer than I expected, was worth every penny, and I'd happily recommend to any reader of fantasy, whatever their personal sexual preferences. This book won an impressive sweep of awards and mentions, especially considering it's Merry Shannon's first published book (something that gave me a double take, as I would have sworn it was too good to be a first novel).

While it started off a little boringly, from the perspective of a priestess of Ithyria (the Very Good Goddess that the country worships and is named after), it also provides us with some necessary context and history. She's in a position to know what is going on, and is going to try and remonstrate with the king. As the next point of view is Talon's - a woman disguised as a man, performing as an acrobat in her troupe for the royal family - it's a good thing we have this context. The goddess herself takes sides in the fight, her priestesses getting slightly deus ex machina powers to save the day and there're hints that her traditional evil enemy has a hand in the troubles.

 Talon and her younger sisters were victims of the unrest, their parents murdered and themselves sold as slaves by barbarian raiders. Talon is wholly dedicated to her sisters - pious and gentle Lyris and flirtatious Bria - and when a shadowy assassin murders the prince and throws a knife in her sister's direction, she automatically throws herself in between. Only the knife was actually aimed at the princess Shasta....

The king is reeling, desperate and cowardly, and decides that Talon would make the ideal bodyguard for his precious daughter - holding Bria and Lyris' wellbeing hostage with one hand, and granting them a status at court with the other. Over the next four years, Talon is almost permanently attached to her princess' side.

Trouble is, the rather sleazy Kurmire, one of the only other surviving Ranes, wants the princess to marry him. His presence taints much of these years - finally coming to a head with Shasta's final refusal, and Bria's infatuation with him going too far.

The character growth is fantastic - Talon doesn't really change much, but she's already fairly mature. Also overprotective and self sacrificing to a fault. She just takes the opportunity to better herself and educate herself at every opportunity in knowledge and swordplay (both to do her job - and in the hope of vengeance on her parents' killers, one day), while becoming steadily closer and more attracted to Shasta. She starts up an affair with the more worldly chambermaid Erinda, which ends up having interesting effects on the romantic side of the plot.

The younger sisters both grow up and develop their personalities further - not always wisely. But both have important parts to play throughout the story.

Shasta is initially a child. A lonely, asthmatic, spoilt, naive princess of sixteen. And then she's a fairly giddy teenager, with increasing dedication and interest in her people's welfare, and flares of passion - both in the council chamber, and towards Talon. Poor Talon becomes the object of her first crush... and has to deal with the flirting, notes and finally, outright embraces. When she finally discovers Talon's sex, Shasta is furious and hurt, and enforces a rigid distance between them for months. And then comes the inevitable coup, with Shasta fleeing to raise an army and Talon grievously injured. This finally scares the princess into realising how much she cares about Talon, and she forgives her. And grows up a lot, becoming increasingly worthy of loyalty and the crown as she calls up her army and returns to do battle with Kurmire, Talon at her side.

When they finally admit their love, accept the other loves them back, and that they are two consenting adults with no one else to answer to, we get a very nice sex scene, which is as it should be, considering most of the book was building up to them ending up passionately in love.

It was fairly long, and I'm partly mentioning it because it was good, and didn't jar me out of the story, something that's tricky to do. Rather than simply writing a sexy scene of lust and passion and then going back to the plot, both women actually retained their personalities throughout. Talon was strong and experienced and slightly mischievous, and putty in her darling's hands, while Shasta is wide eyed and blushing and eager to learn... if rather nervous.

 And ironically, the only typo I spotted in the entire book was in the Acknowledgements section! Oh, and the free preview on Amazon goes right into Chapter Three. Read it.

(And a day later... I suddenly remember the huge looming army that was supposed to be invading, forcing all the main characters into a showdown. WHAT HAPPENED TO IT? I'm assuming that because Shasta won and the Goddess was playing, it wasn't worth their time to turn up to the party anymore. But how did they find out? And seriously, if you get a giant army together, you don't just turn around and go home. Still, I completely forgot about it until later.

 I'm a little in shock, as the rest of the book was so neatly put together. This random hanging plot thread is going to annoy me. I also thought maybe it's the hook for a next book - but that doesn't explain how it was totally ignored. And then the priestess looks at the baby and goes 'ooooh, mystical and important future!', so that was clearly a next book hook. It does explain the nagging 'wait, that's the end?' feeling the last chapter gave me.)

  • Speculative Fiction Winner, Goldie Award 2007
  • Debut Author Winner, Goldie Award 2007
  • SpecFic / SciFi / Fantasy Finalist, Lesbian Fiction Readers Choice Award 2007  
  • Best Novel – Nominated, Gaylactic Spectrum Award 2007
  • Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror – Nominated, Lambda Literary Award 2007

The author even created a YouTube trailer.

You can order or download Sword of the Guardian (Legends of Ithyria) on Amazon. I suggest you do so immediately.

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1 comment:

  1. Oh, thank you so much for reviewing my books!! (And I'm so very glad you enjoyed them.) :) I have included a link to these blog posts on my website, I hope that's all right!

    Also, I absolutely love the "Muse of Lesbian Literature" artwork. Gorgeous!