I am a big old sucker for girl-disguised-as-boy novels; give me a tough girl with a sword in addition to a disguise and I'm in don't-bother-me-I'm-reading mode for hours. Add to this the fact that I'd read an article this author had written on Huffington Post and you'll know why I was so intrigued -- and in the end, entertained.
"Imagine Game of Thrones with less blood and more gender confusion and you get a taste of this knightly epic."
— The Guardian
Summary: Lady Samantha knows her duty as an aristocrat of the kingdom of Thule - to marry well, produce an heir, carry on the lineage of her father, the Duke of Haywood. Lady Samantha's father is a politician before all else, and he knows the ways of power -- and if her marriage can be used as an alliance to increase his power, purchase, pull or potential, she knows he'll marry her not for her heart, but for her value. It's not fair, really - it's not what he got to do; everyone knows how he and Lady Samantha's mother married to follow their hearts - but at her mother's bidding, Lady Samantha is prepared to do what must be done -- until her mother is killed in an attack near their home. Though her life is preserved by the timely arrival of a gorgeous and heroic Paladin, Samantha's life at home is destroyed, and her father, in his grief, turns colder than ever. Left with nothing but duty the detested duty to marry well, Sam hacks off her hair, and becomes who she feels she's meant to be -- Sam of Haywood, a trainee Paladin.
It's not that easy to shed who you are, even if you can fight okay with a sword -- As Samantha or Sam she is still impatient, impetuous, and brash. She manages okay, getting along with the other trainees, but then she befriends the "wrong" type of trainee - an odd boy with silvery hair and catlike eyes that react to the light, and bizarre tattoos on his shoulder and chest. He's half-demon, half the monsters that killed her mother. As, as it turns out, he's keeping secrets, too...
Peaks: Fast paced adventure with a strong-minded protagonist and secondary characters who are just as intriguing - that's a major plus for this type of book, which has a dual hero/ine's journey going on -- inasmuch as Sam is the main character, her two partners are on their own journeys as well.
Sam - as either gender - is as subtle as a chainsaw. She opens her mouth and sticks in her foot more often than not. Accustomed to apologizing before she gets yelled at, poor Sam is constantly being yelled at - because the behavior of a Lady of Thule does not come easily to her - good thing she can at least excel in swordplay. The girl-disguised-as-boy thing isn't played for laughs; Sam is very well disguised until she has to tell one person the truth. Though she is smaller, she is muscular and quick - but not supernaturally so; she has a lot to learn. I liked the reality of that. Of course, she works with men and boys all the time, and inevitably notices them a little more than she ought - and then to suppress her natural inclinations to touch familiarly the people she likes becomes harder - but not impossible. It's nice that the author doesn't depict males and females as so far apart in behavior that they're creatures from differing planets.
And I'd also like to congratulate the publisher for allowing the character to look tough on the cover. While it's clear here the character is Lady Samantha and not her alter, Sam, the boots and the sword and the rocks give us a good preview into what's ahead in the novel.
Valleys: This isn't a "valley," but the reader should be aware that this is the beginning of a series, and there's no guarantee of when the sequel is going to be out - however, as this is a durably written adventure, rereading it will keep you sated for a little while.
I had questions as I read through the novel - not alarming, can't-keep-going ones by any means, but I wondered where the monsters in the kingdom of Thule had come from, why they were there, whether other kingdoms suffered from them, how it was that they were variously shaped, and not all one kind, and basically just the origin story of that world. When a novel is fast-paced and has a lot of action going on, these are the types of things that can be missed - not to the detriment of the story, but reading this made me want to KNOW.
Though I may have misread or generalized, this novel reads as that sort of Fairytale Landscape that mimics old Europe, and the characters seem to default to having no ethnic diversity, which I hope is merely oversight in reading on my part, but I'm afraid not.
Conclusion:I can strongly recommend this fast-paced adventure with a stroppy female wielding a sword - and if this is your particular catnip, grab a copy of PALADIN for an afternoon of reading that will leave you hoping for more - soon!
I received my copy of this book courtesy of the indie publisher. You can find THIS BOOK by This Author at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!