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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.
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.
SASHA is an intelligent fantasy novel, one that requires focus to read. It is about an extremely well put-together world that is described in detail, and to truly enjoy reading it you have to work to understand the details presented by the author. I personally loved it; the characters are well developed and the story is fascinating. I also enjoyed that, unlike most fantasy books, there is not an overpowering romance to smother the strong female character. While there are elements of it, romance takes a backseat to the storyline and political intrigue.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 5, 2011
Sasha is a bit of an oddity, it is hard to place it in a specific genre. It is almost a young adult coming of age story, but not quite. it has the feel, setting and sound of a fantasy story, but there are no elements of magic and no fantastic creatures in sight.
Sasha is the apprentice of great swordsman Kessligh, daughter of the King and a woman of her own making. She simply does not care what others thing, she follows her own heart and mind and thinks little of the consequences her actions bring. I thought Sasha was an exceptional character. She isn't perfect; she certainly has her faults, but that only makes her more intriguing. She does a great deal of growing up over the course of the story, mostly because she is forced to.
I loved all of the characters, mainly Sasha and Jayrd; a young heir to the lordship of Tyree. I was a particular fan of their relationship; theirs was a great friendship to watch unfold. At the start of the book they are both weary of one another, but as time progresses, they begin to understand, respect and enjoy one another.
I always struggle with high fantasy novels, trying to keep the names of different things straight. Now, like I said I always struggle a bit with these novels, but I thought my brain might explode while reading Sasha. There are an absolute plethora of characters and many of the names look and sound a lot of like. For example there is Terjellyn, Teriyan, Tarynt, Captain Tyrun, Lord Tymeth Pelyn, Tarryn, Lord Rashyd, Lord Rydysh, Lord Krayliss and Kessligh. I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. Do you see why I got a bit confused? To help with this, there is a series of maps and a complete list of characters with their nationality and brief description - a sort of cheat-sheet chart in the beginning of the book. I found myself flipping back to this a lot during the first half of the book, while I was still putting things together in my head. It got to be a bit distracting, but at least it helped me piece together exactly what was happening. I am not going to lie to you, I began to just keep reading through it, in hopes that I got the general idea. There are still parts, mainly dealing with the politics that I know went over my head. The characters and their relationships, on the other hand, are easy to follow and I wanted to understand them. But when the book went on a rampage about the intricate details of each territories' political standings and ambitions, I began to fog over. I understand that the author wanted to develop a complete world, but I think he went a bit overboard with the heavy things. For me, it definitely took away from the book - I enjoyed the characters enough to trudge through all the political mumbo-jumbo, but that might not be the case with every reader. This was a long book, I have no idea what the word count is, but there are 421 large pages (this is a huge paperback book) with tiny writing.
Although I had a few issues with the book I did enjoy it. Honestly, the characters were fascinating, entertaining and well-developed. The overall storyline was also remarkably well done. A great deal happens throughout the first book, but a lot of plot line is also setup for the sequel. Most of the characters go through a game changing event - so I am eager to see how they all deal with their new circumstances and outlooks on the world.
Posted October 9, 2009
In the Kingdom of Lanayin, the monarch supports the newer Verenthane religion over the established Goeren-yai. This has increased the schism and caused widespread intolerance. Some people are especially caught between the old and new like Svaalverd style master bladeswoman Princess Sasha, who has blood from both sides.
To Sasha who fights from the heart, everyone seems to argue religion especially her mentor-teacher Kessligh Cronenverdt, her royal siblings and her neighbor Jared. However, it was the death of the king's heir, her brother Krystof that has her seeking vengeance as closure is impossible. War is imminent as each religious faction wants to dominate; to her shock, principled idealist Sasha leads an army against her pragmatic father who struggles with the cause that will destroy his country especially when he knows neighboring nations foster the civil war that divides families.
Although the story line starts slows as the support cast define the realm through banter, humor and wit; fans will enjoy this entertaining coming of age saga. SASHA is a terrific lead character struggling with the hostilities while also being a cock-sure combatant. Ironically this sword and sorcery fable has few blood scenes and non-existent fantasy segues as the only possible (so far) paranormal element is the non-human Serrin who joins in the religious philosophical debates. Fans who appreciate a deep thought provoking thriller will enjoy Joel Shepherd strong look at social, cultural and religious divides that threaten to tear apart a nation that sounds so colorfully familiar.
Posted October 9, 2009
No text was provided for this review.
Posted March 23, 2010
No text was provided for this review.