This multigenerational novel tells a story of enslaved people who try to protect themselves and their legacy with “water magic.”
Briar (Wrath and Ruin, 2016) tells the story of the Whisperers, men and women who have the “Voice” to command water and water spirits, but they can’t use their power for harm. Ten-year-old Eder witnesses the enslavement of Whisperers by fearsome worshipers of the god Resk, who consider them “abominations.” He’s charged with rescuing the Whisperers’ holy relics. The story then picks up years later with the story of Betka, the Resk worshippers’ palace Whisperer and slave. She aspires to earn her freedom by selling rubies embedded in her golden shackle. While studying in the palace library, Betka overhears a conversation between an army officer and King Ethriken about an attack on Kysavar Castle and a sailing expedition. She decides to join the latter to help her sister Tosna, another Whisperer, who was sent to the castle years before. During the voyage, Betka and fellow Whisperer Asi, face unknown magic; later, they discover Kysavar is impossibly covered in water, “as if a huge wave had crashed against the cliff...and then forgotten how to fall to the earth.” Cruel Capt. Rorlen forces the Whisperers and crew to press forward into the doomed castle. The story weaves in past tales of Betka and Eder, her grandfather, finding their way in a hostile environment. Briar’s exploration of the teachings of Whisperers creates a rich, vibrant fictional world, featuring riveting characters struggling against their enslavement. In particular, the horror at the castle emphasizes how people can question their values and beliefs in the face of death. The story ends a little abruptly; hopefully, it will be the first of several tales set in this lush world. Betka is fully fleshed out as a character, with a complex desire for freedom and loyalty to ideas. Her grandfather, however, doesn’t feel as well-rounded. Also, the jump from Eder’s story to Betka’s is a bit jarring; more time could have been spent exploring his later years, his children, and how Betka and her sister became enslaved.
A thoughtful fantasy with a well-developed protagonist.