Reviewed by: SingleEyePhotos
Approximate word count: 180,000 – 185,000
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M. Edward McNally has a master’s degree in English Literature from Iowa State University and Russian/Eastern European history from Arkansas State University. The Sable City is the first of 4 books of the Norothian Cycle. He has a blog dedicated to these books.
Swords. Sorcery. Dragons. Hard-headed and practical, Matilda Lanai is the child of a merchant culture. But she is also a Guilder, dedicated to the protection and support of the rulers of her House. And if they get themselves mixed up in the aforementioned Swords, Sorcery, and even a Dragon, there’s not much she can do about it.
In my younger days, I was a big fan of fantasy, but I feel I’ve moved on and no longer enjoy the genre, or maybe the genre has changed, and left me behind? I was asked to review this particular book, and although I was a bit leery at first, I’m glad I did. This is the kind of fantasy that makes me remember why I enjoyed it growing up. There’s plenty of action and adventure; swords and sorcery; politics and intrigue, but it’s ultimately a character-driven story. While I’d never want to meet any of the characters that populate this author’s world (especially not in a dark alley) I found myself interested in them, in their lives and their quest. Even though I started with some trepidation, I continued to read eagerly.
It’s very difficult to summarize a long book in just a paragraph or two. The main character is Matilda Lanai, a trained Guilder, sworn to protect and support the ruling members of the merchant House of Deskata. She is brought along as companion and guard on a secret quest to find the last blood member of her ruling family, who was exiled from their island country many years before. Along the way she meets many people from many countries who have quests of their own – some good and some selfish – and finds that their paths lie together.
There is the requisite Sword, but the battles are not over-emphasized and gory. There is the requisite Sorcery, but the Wizard of the Circle that Tilda meets is not particularly adept. There is a Dragon, but she is not evil. There is a Legionnaire, a deserter, but there’s more to him than meets the eye. There are good guys and bad guys and some guys you aren’t sure about until the very end, and even then, you can’t quite make up your mind.
No review of a fantasy book would be complete without mention of the world-building. This author has done a very good job of that. His world is different from ours, but the same rules (generally) apply. His characters, even non-humans, are ‘just like us’, so the reader can relate. Disbelief can be suspended easily and willingly, and remain suspended. My only quibble is that some things, particularly place descriptions and names, feel derivative. I was able to identify echoes of many well-known fantasy or science fiction books that I had read. Nothing overt, but there was a sense of familiarity, of déjà vu. The same with the names – I believe the author took common English names and changed them just a tiny bit – enough to be different or non-English, but familiar enough to ring a bell in the reader’s mind, faint and far away. In some ways, that familiarity of place and name is a good thing, in other ways, it isn’t. I enjoyed trying to track down that sense of déjà vu, but others may feel differently. I also enjoyed the familiarity of the names which felt fully grounded in English rather than being a ‘made-up’ language.
Even though this is not advertised as a YA fantasy, I think it would be appropriate for mid-teens and up. There is almost no explicit violence or bad language, and there is a subtle humor underlying many scenes that lightened the story even further. Although this is the first of four books, it can stand alone.
There were no major formatting issues that I noted. However, there are many instances of homophones incorrectly used, frequent enough to be noticed, but not to actually impact reading.
Rating: **** Four Stars