In this debut novel, a young huntress contends with child kidnappers, giant snakes, and a strange voice in her own head.
On the world of Ecalardia, 17-year-old Tiel Lambrie is the telepathic Bounty Huntress. She has just entered the Watosh Forest, full of carnivorous plants, to rescue Fallon Hanover, a reporter. She’s armed with her poisonous Hunter’s Heart blade and is joined by her friend Maestro, a fire-breathing white panther. A dangerous badoe (a mammothlike predator) is also loose, and tracks suggest Fallon didn’t wander into the forest on his own. After slaying the badoe and saving Fallon, Tiel and Maestro head back to their village. A harvest of the crop Bamboodii is in full swing, and Tiel expects a double bounty for being placed in a dodgy situation. Suddenly, a giant acodoe serpent exits the forest. Chief Del blames Tiel for rousing the creature and initiating the prophecy of the Day of Renewal, which will devastate Ecalardia. Later, once the acodoe is defeated, Tiel faces a larquetz (trial) for supposedly breaking the Prime Code of protecting innocents. With her is Aven, her mate and fellow hunter. She escapes banishment by arguing that only a deity could activate the prophecy, and prepares for a mission to save some children held in the acodoe queen’s cave. In her fantasy series opener, Neilson allows her world to grow quickly and wildly in several directions like jungle vines. Episodic narrative arcs introduce characters like Jainu, Aven and Tiel’s young apprentice, and concepts like the maicalla clasps, the position of which signifies a person’s willingness to talk. A glossary helps readers with the author’s fantasy vocabulary, yet there are words left out, such as zahule (reputation), that must be deciphered in the story. Burbling beneath themes of honor, loyalty, and democracy is the voice of an “old man” who invades the minds of others, including Tiel. The master, as some call him, plays a long game of protecting people from the desolate Arasteit, “a region of dark and cold penetrating one’s soul forever.” (“Only the master could get someone across the Arasteit when the Day of Renewal approached.”) Overall, the agile worldbuilding should attract fans of detail-rich fantasy tales, though there’s a scattershot intensity to the narrative’s unfolding.
A bold, intricate fantasy that never slows down.