Not long ago, Cazlina’s brother left their home village for the army – theirs is a righteous cause, a rebellion against a monstrously evil queen, and he wants to be part of it. And as the book opens, Caz wants to follow: she and her horse Miris are on their way to join him. The two of them, Caz and Miris, have a bond that is strange and unique – as far as the girl knows no one else can communicate with animals, but she can converse with her mare mind-to-mind on what seems to be about the same level as she might chat aloud with a ten year old.
Which comes in handy when, late one night as Caz sleeps, a man tries to steal Miris. The mare wakes her up, she intervenes in the theft – and, fortunately for her, the thief turns out to be apologetic and charming, enough so that if she didn’t love her current person so much Miris might not mind being stolen. Caz runs him off with threats of bodily harm, and once he’s gone they immediately continue on their way – only to, thankfully, encounter him again when they need help. Still, however charming he (Jorin) is, however life-saving he is, however incredibly lucky she is that he hasn’t raped her or killed her or left her to her own devices (which
would have left her dead), she can’t forgive him for trying to steal her horse, and runs him off again. This is where his true worth really begins to show, because unless there’s a good deal the reader isn’t told about Cazlina she can’t follow through on a great many of the threats she makes, and he could beat her silly anytime he wants – but he doesn’t. She wants him to go away, and go away he does. Just not very far.
The story is great fun. The cause is purely black and white, with few shades of grey. The evil queen is evil as evil can be, down to her nasty habit of subsisting on the souls of captives. The rebellion is led by and largely made up of noble and self-sacrificing people who are willing to risk everything to bring the queen down. There are some less-than-noble figures among the soldiers, but their leader is rather splendid, and for the most part they’re everything an epic heroic fantasy should feature.
For this is, in a way, epic: the fight is a big one, against the queen, who is powerful and terrible. But it’s told in a manner which is very personal, the focus kept tight on Cazlina, which is why it’s only “in a way” epic: Caz is very young, and immature, and absorbed in her own experience, never thinking of how her actions affect others. If she doesn’t know it exists, it doesn’t exist for the reader, so there is a great deal of the world left indefinite.
Characterization is nicely done. Caz’s immaturity helps ground this story in a life-like reality. She’s twenty-two, but has lived an apparently sheltered life and has never had to think about how astonishingly foolhardy it is to set off across the magic-riddled countryside of a land at war, all alone but for her horse without, I believe, much in the way of self-defense training. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that, all by herself and unannounced, as a very young woman she is in as much danger from the soldiers whose comrade she intends to be as from the enemy or any horse thief or magical creature.
Her brother is a good sort, and his astonishment and worry at seeing her feels genuine. I quite liked him. And Jorin made an excellent gentleman rogue.
I wish there was a little more information about the bond between Caz and Miris. Cazlina doesn’t seem to trust anyone with the secret (except Caz’s beloved brother), and it would be interesting to know the story behind how
she arrived at that level of caution, or about the system of magic in the world. It seems to be a completely unique gift, though all sorts of other magic exist, and some unifying factor in how magic works – even just Cazlina’s view of it would be nice. And another aspect of the bond: Miris is, apparently, of about the intelligence level of a child, which is, obviously, far beyond where horses in this world are generally expected to be. There is the possibility that her advanced intelligence and awareness and vocabulary are because she has spent her entire life conversing mind-to-mind with Caz – except that theory doesn’t fly when Caz is able to have equally fluent conversations with another horse and with a mountain cat (albeit a very unusual mountain cat). It isn’t just her horse she can speak with – it’s all animals; which leads to all sorts of questions about vegetarianism and the general treatment of animals as non-sentient beings. (The definition I linked to fits the one I grew up believing was correct (thank you, Star Trek) as well as the vocabulary-Nazi definition (able to use senses).)
It was an epic quest filled with adventure – and great fun to read. Thanks, Cheryl!