Representing her all-female clan, a young woman negotiates political alliances and forges a connection with a foreign king in this fantasy series starter.
Long ago, 34 women and children escaped slavery, warfare, and oppression by journeying deep into a forest, led by 15-year-old Rowan. The woods are reputedly haunted, so no one followed them, and over time, they developed a thriving warrior society called the Womara, led only by women. (Children are born from circumscribed partnerships; boys live with the clan until puberty, then leave, although they may return later.) Rowan’s great-great-granddaughter Seanna, a scout for the Womara, is exploring a mountain range to the north, where she finds a hidden pass and, not far beyond, a murdered party of men. There’s one survivor, a young man her age named James whose father—the king of a northern seaport city—is among the dead. She sets James’ broken leg, and they learn more about each other; soon he must return to his kingdom, but he asks Seanna to meet him during the next summer solstice to move his father’s body for proper burial. In turn, Seanna asks him not to reveal the pass’s location to anyone. After petitioning recently allied regional clans to include Womara among their ranks, Seanna keeps her promise to James and visits his city, which he now rules as king. Her presence provokes a reaction from James’ enemies, but Seanna’s fighting abilities are up to the challenge, and she and James become political and romantic allies. In her debut, Nicely employs a consistent elevated high-fantasy tone, which is often well-done. However, some of the dialogue comes off as stilted, as when James shows Seanna his city: “The outlying structures were built for the accommodation of commerce and ships…reinforcing the defensive strengths of the lower portion of the port.” The overuse of dialogue tags, especially the cheesy “shared,” also becomes intrusive at times. However, the book does offer well-thought-out political scenarios that have plenty of room to develop in later installments as well as rousing moments that display the women’s fortitude. As a result, readers will likely want to see what happens next.
Intelligent and intriguingly complicated despite its flaws.