Fate, grief and sacrifice collide in a manga-like fantasy realm with characteristic violence and straightforward presentation.
Within the first 10 pages of Forsythe’s novel, Chiyo Alglacea, a wife and mother of a young daughter, opens her eyes to find herself in a strange field, steps in freshly eviscerated intestine, urinates herself, breaks a man’s nose and picks up a sword. The action departs infrequently from this terrain, because the once meek Chiyo wakes with a new personality streak—carnal violence and moral ambivalence when threatened. This inexplicable dualism, “the beast within her,” serves her well as she joins rogue warriors Muhjah and Senka, and the three travel together, murderously sabotaging Emperor Kenichi’s despotic rule over the country of Dashkalil. Characters are simply drawn—naïvely dutiful peasants, simpering, secretly manipulative priestesses and devil-may-care sword swingers. Chiyo’s grief over losing her family and her battle with the grim portents of her fate will resonate with readers, but the rote telling and predictable unfolding of events sentimentalizes her situation until it’s no longer emotionally relatable. The plot isn’t dull, just well trodden. As characters fight, plot and pray, most aren’t categorically right or wrong—there is a consistently nuanced notion of good and evil—which is refreshing in the genre. Also, the religion of Dashkalil, the Sacerdotisa, oddly referred to as a sect or cult (misnamed because it’s the sole spiritual practice of the realm), makes a surprisingly altruistic sacrifice of power in the end, based on the belief that human beings, if we listen, are innately connected and born with a tacit respect for the earth. It’s a sobering moment in a bloody story, but the book’s tone is so direct it’s almost pedantic, which is stifling when there is a lesson to be learned or a point to be made. Philosophical or political arguments fall short, and a lot of the novel’s mythology is left unexplained—time travel, the appearance of Chiyo’s bestial side, why everyone speaks English.
Adolescent in well-worn genre territory; exciting for the forgiving reader.