A handful of adventurers and warriors may be the heroines needed to champion a land besieged by violence and a steady moral decline in this debut novel and series opener.
Longtime friends Ravage and Patsy satisfy the former’s “penchant for vengeance” by chasing a group of bandits who savagely murdered a family. After narrowly surviving clashes with vicious creatures and phantoms, the two women continue their journey through the land of Sapphiron and stop in Menark, a merchant village, for food and supplies. Mercenaries known as the Scarlet Blades, who need no provocation, assault Ravage and Patsy, but powerful female warrior Akella comes to their aid and defeats the men in combat. Akella, one of the (not quite human) Surangi race, is accompanied by her sister Crystal and friend Melody. They plan to reunite with some Surangi in the city of Leesa, but Akella heads off on her own. While she confronts—often aggressively—unsavory men who victimize people (or wolf cubs used as bait for capturing wolves), Ravage and Patsy help the inexplicably disappearing townsfolk of Sigwood. But trouble’s on the way: Scarlet Blades leader Baron Nade, assuming formidable Akella’s a witch, sends sorceress Matearla to hunt down the heroines. Forrester’s fantasy story is dominated by laudable female characters, making it easy to forget that the villains are primarily male—and generally atrocious. Ravage and Patsy are admirable, fearlessly facing beasts in others’ defense, while Akella’s valiance may be questionable: is striking down a man who’s already surrendered, for example, an unnecessarily brutal act? The author excels at describing otherworldly beings (the six-eyed, black-beaked, saliva-dripping tohern), complemented by Isailovic’s crisp, detailed illustrations (one of them stars a wide-mouthed banshee). Not all men are evil, but the standout among the baddies is Matearla, who lists murder “in the top three” of her “favorite activities.” Characters introduced late have little chance for development, but it’s clear, especially with someone’s divine encounter, that Forrester’s priming readers for subsequent installments.
First-rate, refreshingly female protagonists worthy of a multivolume fantasy tale.