Sasha (Trial of Blood and Steel Series#1) by Joel Shepherd, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Sasha (Trial of Blood and Steel Series#1)

Sasha (Trial of Blood and Steel Series#1)

4.4 5
by Joel Shepherd
     
 

Spurning her royal heritage to be raised by the great warrior, Kessligh, her exquisite swordplay astonishes all who witness it. But Sasha is still young, untested in battle and often led by her rash temper. In the complex world of Lenayin loyalties, her defiant wilfulness is attracting the wrong kind of attention.
Lenayin is a land almost divided by its two

Overview

Spurning her royal heritage to be raised by the great warrior, Kessligh, her exquisite swordplay astonishes all who witness it. But Sasha is still young, untested in battle and often led by her rash temper. In the complex world of Lenayin loyalties, her defiant wilfulness is attracting the wrong kind of attention.
Lenayin is a land almost divided by its two faiths: the Verenthane of the ruling classes and the pagan Goeren-yai, amongst whom Sasha now lives. The Goeren-yai worship swordplay and honour and begin to see Sasha as the great spirit—the Synnich—who will unite them. But Sasha is still searching for what she believes and must choose her side carefully.
When the Udalyn people—the symbol of Goeren-yai pride and courage—are attacked, Sasha will face her moment of testing. How will she act? Is she ready to lead? Can she be the saviour they need her to be?

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Cara Chancellor
Decades before Sashandra was born a princess of Lenayin, the highland country underwent a partial religious conversion. The newcomers—pious Verenthanes—were credited with victory over northern enemies, and in return they gained many followers among the ruling class. Meanwhile, the native Goeren-yai held tight to their pagan beliefs but retreated from politics. That was then. Now, with ten of eleven provinces ruled by Verenthanes and the Goeren-yai stronghold threatened, the latter are looking for a champion. In the exiled princess, they think they have found one. Sasha renounced her birthright after the death of her brother and then-heir, Krystoff, choosing instead to live and train as a Nasi-Keth warrior in the Goeren-yai town of Baerlyn. Verenthane by family, Nasi-Keth by training, and Goeren-yai in spirit, she now must decide where her loyalties lay and how much she will give up to follow them. In this first book of "A Trial of Blood & Steel," the delicate politics of religion, family, and national pride all come into play on a grand scale that mirrors other medieval cultures and even present-day tensions. The story's complex cast of characters and philosophical arguments will be challenging for even advanced readers, but Sasha's deadly skill with a blade and Shepherd's search for truth make the details more than worth the ride. Reviewer: Cara Chancellor
Publishers Weekly
Shephard's epic gets off to a slow start as feisty bladeswoman Sasha, her master, her princely brothers and Jaryd, a local heir, lecture one another about religious differences amid a hodgepodge of names and invented terms. Jaryd saves Sasha from treachery after a fight, and the consequences accelerate toward war between the overlord Hadryn and the common Udalyn. Soon Sasha finds herself at the head of an army, facing her honest but deeply conflicted father. Rumors of war outside the kingdom point to larger conflicts down the road. Sasha is young, impetuous and contradictory, but impassioned about doing the right thing if she can figure out what it is. Once Shepherd (the Cassandra Kresnov series) finds his stride, the second half of the book crackles with intriguing characters, witty banter and vivid, realistic battles, leaving readers optimistic about the planned sequels. (Oct.)
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine
[H]ighly readable. It is an original and fresh heroic fantasy, showcasing a well drawn, well realized world filled with fascinating, three dimensional characters who pulled me in for the ride and carried me away. I got totally sucked into this book, completely against all expectations, which, when you think about it, makes it all the better… Joel Shepherd's first foray into fantasy has paid dividends with this book - it is the first such fantasy I have read in a long time where I finished the last page, put it down and thought, 'I wonder when the next one will come out.' I hope Shepherd revisits Sasha's world soon - there's a lot of story to explore!
Fantasy Book Review
The whole book had me hardly able to put it down, and my perpetual human need for sleep continually stood in the way of decent reading time. The vague allusions towards what will come in the sequel…Petrodor has me eager to read more. This is definitely a book you will want to pick up. Not the worlds hardest read, but downright and thoroughly enjoyable.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781591027874
Publisher:
Prometheus Books
Publication date:
10/28/2009
Series:
Trial of Blood and Steel Series, #1
Pages:
443
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Sasha

A TRIAL OF BLOOD & STEEL
By JOEL SHEPHERD

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2009 Joel Shepherd
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59102-787-4


Chapter One

Sasha circled, a light shift and slide of soft boots on compacted earth. The point of her wooden stanch marked the circle's centre, effortlessly extended from her two-fisted grip. Opposite, Teriyan the leather worker matched her motion, stanch likewise unwavering, bare arms knotted with hard muscle. Sasha's eyes beheld his form without true focus. She watched his centre, not the face, nor the feet, nor especially the wooden training blade in his strong, calloused hands.

An intricate tattoo of flowing black lines rippled upon Teriyan's bicep as his arm flexed. Thick red hair stirred in a gust of wind, tangled where it fell long and partly braided down his back. High above, an eagle called, launched to flight from the row of pines on the northern ridge overlooking the Baerlyn valley of central Valhanan province. The westerly sun was fading above the ridge, settling among the pines, casting long, looming shadows. The valley's entire length was alive with golden light, gleaming off the wood-shingled roofs of the houses that lined the central road, and brightening the green pastures to either side. Nearby, several young horses frolicked, an exuberance of hooves and gleaming manes and tails. From a nearby circle, there came an eruption of yells above the repeated clash of wooden blades. Then a striking thud, and a pause for breath.

Of all of this, Sasha was aware. And when Teriyan's lunging attack came, she deflected and countered with two fast, slashing strokes, and smacked her old friend hard across the belly.

Teriyan cursed, good-naturedly, and readjusted the protective banda that laced firmly about his torso. "What'd I do?" he asked, with the air of a man long since resigned to his fate.

Sasha shrugged, backing away with a light, balanced poise. "You attacked," she said simply.

"Girl's gettin' cute," Geldon remarked from amidst the circle of onlookers. Sasha flashed Geldon a grin, twirling her stanch through a series of rapid circles, moving little more than her wrists.

"Always been cute, baker-man," she said playfully. Guffaws from the crowd, numbering perhaps twenty on this late afternoon session. Strong men all, with braided hair and calloused hands. Many ears bore the rings of Goerenyai manhood, and many faces the dark ink patterns of the wakening and the spirit world. Lenay warriors all, as fierce and proud as all the lowlands tales, a sight to strike terror into the hearts of any who had cause to fear. And yet they stood, and watched with great curiosity, as a lithe, cocky, short-haired girl in weave pants and a sheepskin jacket dismantled the formidable swordwork of one of their best, with little more to show for the effort than sweat.

Teriyan exhaled hard, and repeated his previous move, frowning with consideration. "Bugger it," he said finally. "That's as good an opening stroke as anyone's got. If someone has a better suggestion, I'm all ears."

"Improve," Tyal remarked.

"Kessligh says the low forehand is a more effective opener than the high," Sasha interrupted as Teriyan gave Tyal a warning stare. "For a man your size, anyhow."

"Ah," Teriyan made a mock dismissive gesture, "that Kessligh, what would he know about honest swordwork? You and him can stick to your sneaky svaalverd. Leave the real fighting to us, girlie."

"Look, do you want to know how I do it, or not?" Sasha asked in exasperation. There weren't many men in Lenayin who would dare call her "girlie." Teriyan was one. Kessligh Cronenverdt, the greatest swordsman in Lenayin and her tutor in far more than just swordwork for the past twelve years, was another.

Teriyan just looked at her, a reluctant smile creeping across a rugged face.

A bell clanged from the centre of town, midway up the valley. Stanches lowered, and all commotion about the training yard ceased as men turned to look, and listen. Again the bell, echoing off the steep valley sides, and then again, as someone got a good rhythm on the pulley rope.

"Rack your weapons!" yelled Byorn, the training hall proprietor, above the sudden commotion as men ran, boots thundering up the steps from the outside yard to the open, broad floorboards of the inner hall. "No haste in this hall, respect the circles!"

Despite the haste, men did keep to the dirt paths between tachadar circles, careful not to disturb the carefully laid stones, nor the sanctity of the space within. Sasha moved with less haste than some, seeing little point in elbowing through the crush of young men taking the lead. She walked instead with Teriyan and Geldon, up the dividing steps and into the high-ceilinged interior, unlacing her banda, and taking time to select her real weapons from the wooden rack where she'd hung them earlier. With weapons, Kessligh had instructed her often, one never rushed.

Most men did not own horses and began running up the trail toward the main road. Sasha fetched Peg from his field beside the training hall, used a stone paddock wall to mount, and galloped him in their wake ... but before she could go racing to the lead, she spotted a familiar bay mare coming up the road to the training hall, a slim, red-haired girl upon her back, waving one-handed for Sasha's attention.

Sasha brought Peg to a halt, and waited. Lynette arrived with a thunder of swirling dust and flying hair, eyes wide within a freckled, pale face. She was panting and the mare-Chersey-was sweating profusely. Maybe enough for a seven-fold ride at speed, Sasha reckoned with a measuring eye, knowing Chersey's abilities every bit as well as Peg's.

"Sasha," Lynette gasped, "it's Damon. Damon's here."

Sasha frowned. "Damon came to Baerlyn? With what?"

"I thi ... think it's the Falcon Guard." She brushed a ragged handful of curling red hair from her face as a gust of valley wind caught it. Her long dress was pulled well above her knees, with most unladylike decorum, exposing a pair of coarse-weave riding pants beneath. And leather boots in the stirrups. "I'm not sure ... I was taking Chersey for a ride out past Spearman's Ridge when I saw them coming, so I turned around and came back as fast as I could ... They had the banners out, Sasha, it was full armour and full colours! They looked magnificent!"

Sasha's frown grew deeper. The Falcon Guard had been lately posted in Baen-Tar. "You didn't speak to them? You don't know why they're here?"

Lynette shook her head. "No, I came straight back and told Jaegar, and he sent someone to ring the bell, and then I came looking for you ..."

"Damn it. Lynie, I want you to go and get Kessligh-he went to buy some chickens."

"He'll hear the bell ringing, surely?" Lynette asked in confusion, as more men mounted nearby, and went galloping up the road.

"Kessligh takes his chickens very seriously," Sasha said wryly. "Just try and hurry him along a bit."

"I'll try," said Lynette doubtfully. Sasha kicked Peg with her heels, and went racing up the road as Lynette pulled Chersey about in a circle and followed as best she could. A short way along, Sasha came across Teriyan, Geldon and several others, running at a steady pace. She pulled Peg to a trot alongside and extended an inviting hand to Teriyan.

"Come on," she said, "council heads should get there first."

"Leave it, girl," Teriyan answered without breaking stride. "I still got some pride left, you know." Sasha scowled. Lynette went racing past on Chersey. "Hey, where'd you send my girl off to?"

"Ask her yourself, if you ever catch her," Sasha snorted, and galloped once more up the road.

The road wove between paddock fences and low stone walls, catching the full face of the sun before it vanished behind the ridge.

She was gaining fast on two men ahead as she reached the main Baerlyn road. Upon the wooden verandahs flanking the road, Baerlyn folk had gathered-mothers with their children, elderly folk in light cloaks or knitted shawls, and the men now walking or running along the road's broad edge, keeping the middle clear for horses. Peg loved a target, and passed the leading horses in a thunder of hooves.

The road wound past Geldon's bakery, then past the trading houses and side alleys leading to warehouses, and the workshops of jewellers, potters, furniture makers and Teriyan's own leather shop.

Up ahead she saw a gathering of horses and dismounted men in armour blocking the road, milling before the stone facade of the Steltsyn Star, Baerlyn's only inn. Heraldsmen held banners, gusting now in the light valley wind, indicating that Damon was still in the vicinity.

Sasha pulled up beside several men from the training hall and surveyed the scene. There appeared to be an effort underway to lead the regiment's horses down the Star's side lane, to the stables and paddocks that stretched to the southeastern valley wall at the rear. Her searching eyes found Jaegar, Baerlyn's headman, upon the Star's verandah gesticulating in earnest discussion, then waving a thick, tattooed arm across the semi-organised mass of waiting men and horses. He spoke with Damon-tall, darkly handsome and notable by his purple and green riding cloak, the gold clasp at his neck, and the gleaming silver pommel of his sword at one hip. Now twenty-three summers, by her reckoning, and seeming tired and dishevelled from his ride. All the men held a respectful distance, except the Falcon guard captain and a young man in lordly clothes, eagerly surveying the conversation, whom Sasha did not recognise.

Then the guard captain turned upon the step and shouted above the snort and stamp of hooves, the jangle of armour and the busy discussions of men, "In units down the lane! The stables are already half full, fill them as you can, then fill the barn-it should take another ten! The rest, there's three more properties behind the inn toward the valley side, there should be enough room in those barns, if not, move down and knock on the next door. Be polite, I want not a hay bale disturbed without permission, nor a chicken's feather plucked, nor a sow's tail pulled. I'll not have the good folk of Valhanan saying the Falcon Guard make poor guests! Tend to your mounts, then gather back here for a good hot meal on the king's own coin!"

That got a rousing cheer from all present.

"Men of Baerlyn!" bellowed Jaegar, with a barrel-chested volume that surpassed even the captain. He was a stocky man of middling height but with massively broad shoulders. The angling light appeared to catch only one side of his face, leaving the other darkly ominous ... except that the darker side was facing the light. Upon closer inspection, the spirit-mask of Goeren-yai manhood revealed its finer intricacies of weaving curls, waves and flourishes. Sunlight glinted on the many rings in his ears, and upon the silver chain about his broad, sculpted neck. His long hair, parted cleanly down the middle, bound down the centre of his back in a single, leather-tied braid.

"Those with space available indoors, please find a sergeant or corporal and say so!" Jaegar continued. "There's no need for any more than the horse tenders to spend a night in the cold! Illys, we'd welcome some music inside tonight!" There was a cheer from the Baerlyn townfolk who had encircled the Falcon Guard, in all curiosity and eagerness to help.

"And Upwyld with the ale!" yelled someone from the periphery. "Don't forget the ale!" And that got an enormous cheer from everyone, soldiers and locals alike.

Jaegar held both calloused hands skyward to quieten the racket, and then bellowed, "It is the honour of Baerlyn to receive this most welcome visitation! Three cheers for the Falcon Guard!"

"Hoorah!" yelled the Baerlyners. "Hoorah! Hoorah!"

"Three cheers for Master Jaryd!" with an indication to the young man beside them on the verandah. Again the cheers. The young man held up a hand with a cheerful grin. Something about the glamorous cut of his clothes, and the self-assured smile on his lips, made Sasha's breath catch in her throat. The Falcon Guard were all from neighbouring Tyree province of central Lenayin. He must be one of Great Lord Aystin Nyvar of Tyree's sons. Not Jaryd Nyvar? Surely the spirits would not be so cruel to her? "And three cheers for Prince Damon!" And those three cheers, to Sasha's mild surprise, were loudest of all. Damon, she noted, glanced down at his riding boots and looked uncomfortable. She repressed an exasperated smile. Same old Damon.

"Three cheers for Baerlyn!" yelled the captain, and the soldiers answered back in kind. "Let's move!"

With little more fuss, the soldiers began filing down the Star's cobbled side lane. Sasha finally completed her rough headcount, and arrived at perhaps eighty men and horses, their numbers clustering a good way up the road past the inn. The strength of standing companies varied from province to province-in the north, the great armoured cavalry companies numbered closer to a thousand each. The Falcon Guard company, by her reckoning, should have about five hundred at full strength. Perhaps this contingent had left in a hurry and the others were following.

She left Peg in the care of a farmer she knew well. Damon and the young Tyree lordling stood in continued conversation with Jaegar, now joined by another two Baerlyn councilmen, similarly tattooed and ringed as Jaegar. Sasha eyed that contrast as she approached unseen, slipping between soldier-led horses-the Baerlyn men rough and hardy Goeren-yai warriors. And Damon tall, clipped and elegantly attired, a Verenthane medallion-the eight-pointed star-prominently suspended on a chain about his neck.

Rural Goeren-yai and city Verenthanes. The old Lenayin, and the new. The Goeren-yai believed in the ancient spirits of Lenay hills, the Verenthane in the foreign, lowlands gods. Sasha was born Verenthane, but lived amongst Goeren-yai ... and was raised by Kessligh as Nasi-Keth, the followers of the teachings of far-off Saalshen. She sometimes wondered if she'd done something to offend some gods or spirits in a previous life to have deserved such a complicated fate. She often thought things would be so much simpler if she could just choose one or the other ... or the third. But no matter which she chose, her choice would offend countless powerful people.

Sasha thrust the doubts aside, cleared the gathering about the steps, and trotted briskly up. Damon saw her at the last moment and straightened stiffly. Nearby commotion abruptly slowed, and conversation paused, as people turned to look.

"Damon," said Sasha, managing a half-genuine smile as Jaegar quickly made way for her atop the steps.

"Sashandra," Damon replied, similarly ill-at-ease. And then, with meaningful emphasis, "Sister." And spread his arms to embrace her. Sasha returned the hug, the first time she had embraced her brother in nearly a year, by her immediate reckoning. From about the verandah, and upon the road, there was applause and some cheering. Beneath Damon's riding clothes, Sasha felt the hard weight of chainmail, which was sometimes decorative custom for a travelling prince, and sometimes not. This, she guessed from the size of the company, was not. They released each other, and Damon put both gloved hands upon her shoulders and looked at her.

"You're looking well," he remarked.

Liar, Sasha thought. Little though she'd seen him of late, she knew well his true opinion of her appearance these days. In Baen-Tar, the seat of Lenay kings, the ladies all wore dresses, and hair so long you could trip on it. Some of her wry amusement must have shown on her face, for Damon barely repressed a smile of his own.

"You too," Sasha replied, and meant it. "What brings you to my humble town?"

"Well," said the young prince with a hard sigh. "Therein lies the tale."

* * *

"We're still not clear exactly what happened," Damon said to the table, his voice raised to carry above the mealtime clamour. Changed into a clean shirt beneath a patterned leather vest, covered again by the riding cloak in regal purple and green, he looked to Sasha's eyes far more comfortable now than in the armour. His fingers toyed absently with the wine cup. "We only received word that Great Lord Rashyd Telgar is dead, and that Great Lord Krayliss is responsible."

Sasha stared sullenly at the open fire upon the centre of the Star's main floor. Flames blazed within the stone-lined pit as several kitchen hands hurried about and rotated the three sizzling spits. Men clustered at long tables between ceiling supports as Baerlyn youngsters served as waiters, hurrying back and forth with laden plates and mugs of ale.

Voices roared in conversation, and heat radiated from the fire, as music and the smell of good food filled the confined air beneath the Star's low ceiling.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Sasha by JOEL SHEPHERD Copyright © 2009 by Joel Shepherd. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Joel Shepherd was born in Adelaide in 1974. He has studied film and television, international relations, has interned on Capitol Hill in Washington, and travelled widely in Asia. His first trilogy, the Cassandra Kresnov Series, consists of Crossover, Breakaway and Killswitch. Visit Joel Shepherd’s Web site at www.joelshepherd.com.

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