So, secondary world fantasy without any actual fantastic elements. Secondary world fiction then, maybe. But really, there is no speculative element to the story beyond that, a complete lack of magic, strange creatures, gods, or any of your other standard fantasy tropes.
And yet it’s a good story.
Oh, on the surface, it’s a fairly standard story. Small kingdom (closer to a city state, really) is invaded and most of the soldiers and its lord are killed. One of the guard captains accidentally survives, as does the lord’s son. They escape and go recruit some help to take the town back. Simple, straightforward, easy to follow.
But the characters have to work at things a little harder than that. Ryke, the guard captain, has to make a lot of compromises and moral adjustments to keep his prince alive, save him, and get the help they need. The prince has to change who he is. They both need to come to the realization that women are people too and may have their own thoughts and feelings.
And there’s world building here, though so much of it is in the background that it’s just naturally a part of the story. An otherworldly capoeira, a martial art disguised as dance slips in somewhere in the hidden valley, promising that there’s a whole other culture yet to explore. The south is very different from the north.
It also seems to be a small world, taking days on horse to get to what are considered far away places. Or maybe the horses are just very, very fast. Populations are equally small. I have the feeling this will get stretched out a bit in future books of the series, but just now, it seems small. So small that, in the journeying chapters, I’m often mentally subbing in ‘weeks’ for ‘days’ because it seems far more reasonable to me.
Overall rating: 3.5 stars. I enjoy almost all the characters. The bad guy isn’t really bad, exactly, just looking to forge a new home and set himself up as the lord. The hero has moral struggles. The prince he’s supporting makes major life changes.
And there’s a lot of inclusivity here, particularly among those who live in the secret valley, including an out lesbian couple. Quite a change from the standard fare of the late 1970s.
Be well, everyone.by