In the first of a Norse-inflected high fantasy series, five sisters (and one stepbrother) threaten the status quo of all the countries of Thyrsland.
The once strong and hearty King Athelrick of Almissia is dying from a mysterious illness. While his despairing second wife, Queen Gudrun, claims that the king’s sickness has a mundane cause, the king’s eldest daughter, a quick-tempered, ruthlessly pragmatic warrior incongruously named Bluebell, is convinced that evil magic is at work…and she’s right. Bluebell gathers her four sisters together in a quest for his cure only to discover that her siblings don’t share her country- and family-first attitude; they have their own preoccupations. Queen Rose of Nettlechester longs for her lover, Heath, her royal husband’s nephew, who secretly fathered her child. Ash feels overwhelmed by her growing affinity to undermagic and tormented by visions that she will one day doom thousands. Ivy resents leaving her comfortable life with her uncle and aunt while lusting for every good-looking man she sees. Willow has rejected her family’s pantheistic religion in favor of the monotheistic, patriarchal trimartyr faith and believes that the god Maava’s angels speak to her personally. And Gudrun’s son by her first marriage, the ambitious Wylm, sees this calamity as an opportunity to claim the throne for himself. Wilkins does an excellent job of setting the stage for her series, but it’s disappointing that most of the novel is basically a mechanism to put the characters in place for future drama later. The story is also short on surprises; it seems fairly obvious how the women’s iconic roles (warrior, magician, priestess, etc.) and personal flaws will lead them toward tragedy. Given that the novel is clearly inspired by Norse folklore, that is probably deliberate but may lose some readers with more modern expectations. Ash redeems the book by being the most sympathetic and interesting of the bunch; her magic and intelligence make her more self-aware than her sisters, who generally fail to consider the consequences of their actions.
Potentially interesting, but only time (i.e., future books) will tell.