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Tracato (Trial of Blood and Steel Series#3)by Joel Shepherd
For two hundred years Tracato has been the center of enlightenment, as the serrin have occupied human lands and sought to remake humanity anew. But the serrin have not destroyed Rhodaan’s feudal families entirely, and as Tracato faces the greatest threat to its survival in two centuries, old rivalries are stirring. Sasha must assist her mentor Kessligh to
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For two hundred years Tracato has been the center of enlightenment, as the serrin have occupied human lands and sought to remake humanity anew. But the serrin have not destroyed Rhodaan’s feudal families entirely, and as Tracato faces the greatest threat to its survival in two centuries, old rivalries are stirring. Sasha must assist her mentor Kessligh to strengthen the Tracato Nasi-Keth, yet with one royal sister siding with the feudalists and another soon to be married to Tracato’s most powerful foe, her loyalties are agonizingly divided.
Worse still, from Sasha’s homeland the Army of Lenayin are marching to make war upon Tracato. Can she fight her own people? Or must she join them, and fight not only her lover Errollyn, but to extinguish the brightest light of hope in all the land—serrin civilization itself?
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"Those who savor the intricacies of rival religions, vividly choreographed fights, and lots of bloody battle will enjoy it… this heroic fantasy should please fans of, say, George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice novels."
"Sasha is just my kind of book: complex, action-packed, realistic and unpredictable… I enjoyed Sasha as much as any book I've read recently and was disappointed when I finished it. Volume two can't come soon enough."
Contra Costa Times and San Jose Mercury News
"A huge and complex fantasy world, a fascinating heroine, heart-pounding descriptions of both small-scale sword fights and full-on warfare, several characters that genuinely grow and change, and—maybe most importantly—the hint that this is just the start of what could become a great series. Excellent epic fantasy."
Fantasy Literature’s "Best Books of 2009"
Praise for Petrodor:
"A rollicking story of a preindustrial city caught on the threshold of war, with plenty of action and intrigue… Shepherd doesn't settle for clichés." San Jose Mercury News
"As soon as the action picks up, the banter, character development, and vivid descriptions build tension toward a gripping climax, leaving tantalizing threads dangling." Publishers Weekly
Read an Excerpt
TracatoA TRIAL OF BLOOD & STEEL
By JOEL SHEPHERD
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2010 Joel Shepherd
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I DON'T L IKE THE LOOK OF THIS," said Sasha, leaning on the Maiden's railing. Behind them, she could see three ships, triangular foresails billowing, masts rolling in the swell. "How far away, do you think?"
"Five leagues," said Errollyn. "They're no faster than us, I doubt they'll catch us."
Sasha turned to look across the deck, the wind whipping at her short hair, tossing the tri-braid across her cheek. Huge canvas sheets thudded and strained against their ropes as sailors ran on the deck, or crouched, and kept a wary eye to their knots and loops lest something abruptly break. Waves rolled across their path. The Maiden surged as the swell lifted behind, white foam spraying as her bow rushed through the water. Then slowed, riding high atop the wave, mast tilting back to the left as she slid down the rear side, losing half her speed.
Port side, Sasha reminded herself. Port was left, starboard right. It was her seventh day at sea, and she'd not been as sick as she'd feared, despite the weather. Half a year in Petrodor and much experience fishing, rowing and sailing on small boats had granted her enough sea legs that she wasn't green and hanging over the side, like some others she could name.
"I'm not real keen on learning naval warfare right now," she said, scanning the horizon for other sails. She saw none besides the three, but the haze and rolling seas could conspire to hide things even from eyes as sharp as Errollyn's. The three pursuers were almost certainly Algrassien, though it was too far to see the colours. They were past Algrasse now, and it was the Larosa coast that occasionally showed its dim shadow through the distant mist to starboard.
Soon, the captain hoped, they would meet a Rhodaani or a Saalshen patrol, and the pursuers would flee. They were little more than pirates, in the face of serrin naval power. Blockade they had threatened, should Elisse be attacked, and now, blockade they attempted ... three vessels at a time, preying on freighters alone or in small groups, never daring to face warships bow to bow. There was too much traffic in the Elissian Sea for all freighters to be guarded all the time, and a few had been lost. Sasha only hoped that this particular Rhodaani freighter was as fleet on the downwind run as her captain claimed.
She wondered if they shouldn't be hugging closer to the Elissian coast. Elisse was no more friendly to her cause than Larosa or Algrasse, but it had been under attack for weeks. If the latest tales were true, the Rhodaani Steel had bypassed the port city of Algen and were laying siege to Vethenel further north. Given what Sasha had heard of the Rhodaani Steel, she had little doubt that, if true, Vethenel would have fallen by now.
But the Elissian coastline was rugged in parts, its waters treacherous, and its navy had not been entirely smashed, or so the Maiden's captain feared. More likely its surviving remnants were in hiding, he claimed, in hidden bays known only to local sailors. He chose for his ships a more westerly course, down the centre of the Elissian Sea. The great Rhodaani port city of Tracato lay barely a day and a half ahead, so long as the wind held to this direction.
Off to starboard, Windsprite heaved and foamed, keeping pace measure for measure. To port, Radiance appeared to be struggling a little. Sasha saw men about her foresail ropes, adjusting tensions, with much gesticulating and pointing. Three against three.
"You're the master tactician," Errollyn told her. His bow was unstrung in his hand as he leaned on the rail. "What would you do?"
"Hope they don't have artillery," said Sasha.
"Doesn't seem likely. There's no room to fire past those foresails."
"They won't be carrying cargo either," Sasha countered. "We're heavier."
"But better built."
"Enough to make a difference when we're so much lower in the water? They're bound to be a bit faster, at least, and they probably will have artillery somewhere amidships, though they'd have to draw alongside to use it."
"We might have to start throwing things overboard," Errollyn suggested. He stood up from the rail, took a firing stance, and practised drawing an imaginary bowstring. Testing his balance, as the ship slowly heaved back and across to port.
"Fine," said Sasha. "I'll start with Alythia."
Errollyn just looked at her, half amused, half wary. The wind blew ragged, dark-grey hair about his face, framing brilliant, deep-green eyes. "Maybe you're getting enough practice at naval warfare already," he suggested.
Sasha snorted. She turned and made her way past the captain's wheel, down a short flight of steps to midships. Her balance was fine now, even with the ship rolling so heavily ... but then, balance was always her strong point. She'd been sick the second day after leaving Petrodor, but pretty good since then. Cool wind, sea spray and a view of the horizon all helped-she was much better above decks than below. Also, it was a relief to be finally free of Petrodor. Half a year in the primary port city of Torovan was her absolute limit, and while the ocean was nothing like the Lenay mountains and forests that she craved, its far, open horizons calmed her nerves and unknotted a winter's worth of accumulated tension from her muscles.
Kessligh sat with Dhael upon the raised decking about the main mast, talking. Sasha sat beside Kessligh, and gazed up at the pair of heaving, triangular foresails. Their conversation was about sails, boats and winds. Sasha found more interest in Kessligh's left leg as he sat with his it stretched out before him, the knee nearly straight. He seemed to find it more comfortable that way. The crossbow bolt had gone straight through the meat of his thigh five months before. The wound had healed well and the stiffening had not affected his movement as much as Kessligh had feared. But it was bad enough, and the limp was now permanent. A long, smooth staff rested at Kessligh's side, his constant companion.
Dhael was Rhodaani, of an age with Kessligh, but considerably taller. He had long, greying hair, but a handsome, lean face, as little weathered by middle age as was Kessligh's. He wore a black cloak against the spring chill, and seemed unbothered by the ship's motion-unsurprising, for a merchant. Dhael Maran, however, was far more than just a Rhodaani merchant-he was a Tracato councilman, an elected leader of Rhodaan. Strange concept that was. Such concepts the serrin had introduced to the three Bacosh provinces of Rhodaan, Enora and Ilduur, after the fall of Leyvaan the Fool two hundred years ago. Normally the serrin had not the force of arms to invade their neighbours, but following the demise of Leyvaan's armies, those three provinces in particular had been left with little to defend themselves. The armies of Saalshen had invaded, and met with many friendly peasants only too happy to be free of their feudal overlords.
Rhodaan, Enora and Ilduur now made a wall of serrin/human civilisation, protecting Saalshen from the savagery of those arrayed against her. Sasha had often wondered why the serrin had stopped where they had. Elisse, too, would have been largely undefended, following Leyvaan's fall, but the serrin had opted not to invade. Meraine also, and perhaps even parts of eastern Larosa. But many in Saalshen seemed discomforted even at their present, limited conquest, and neither Saalshen nor their Bacosh allies (known most everywhere as the Saalshen Bacosh) had invaded any foreign territory in two centuries since. Until now.
"Algen should come up soon to port," Sasha remarked. "There should be some ships in the vicinity."
"Perhaps a blockade," Kessligh agreed.
"I don't think anyone will be stupid enough to try to assist Algen by sea," said Dhael. They spoke Torovan, and Dhael's accent was lovely-all soft Larosan vowels and lilting consonants. Rhodaan retained its own native tongue, but Larosan was the tongue of nobility and civility in most Bacosh cities. Of all the Bacosh kings, Larosa had supplied approximately half, over the endless, bloody centuries. Most Bacosh nobility traced their lineage back to Larosa at some point. So much conquest had its rewards.
Now, a new Larosan ruler had proclaimed himself regent of the Bacosh. He would no doubt have claimed himself king, had Verenthane nobility not declared that title forbidden ... until the one who would claim it had retaken the Saalshen Bacosh from the serrin, and reestablished human dominion there. Regent Arrosh was massing an army in Larosa, by far the largest yet assembled for such an assault. Kessligh and Sasha had hoped to stymie such a development from Petrodor, but Petrodor's conflicts had only seen the emergence of a new king of Torovan, as there had never been a king of Torovan in seven hundred years. Torovan was marching. The united Bacosh was marching. The Army of Lenayin was marching. And the Rhodaani, unwilling to be threatened on two fronts simultaneously, had struck first-into Elisse.
"Might some of the Elissian nobility try to escape across the sea?" Sasha wondered. "They've allies in Algrasse."
"Perhaps, from further along the coast," Dhael conceded. "But they'll not risk Saalshen's navy nearer the ports. I hear many of the Elissian nobility fled in advance of the Steel, even as they were exhorting their armies to stand fast and fight. They heard talk from across the border, Rhodaanis muttering that they should not repeat in Elisse the same mistake the serrin made in Rhodaan."
"Leaving the nobility alive?" Sasha guessed his meaning.
Dhael nodded. "They say Saalshen was too kindhearted two hundred years ago. If they'd put all Rhodaani nobility to the sword then, as was done in Enora, Rhodaan would be much more stable now."
"It wasn't kindheartedness," Kessligh replied. "They just didn't see the point. The serrin consider no conflict resolved until the opponent has been convinced of his own wrongness. To kill a person to win an argument is not only abhorrent to them, most serrin believe it only loses you the argument, or postpones it to a later date."
"That didn't seem to bother them in Enora," Sasha remarked.
"Serrin killed very few in Enora," said Kessligh, "and mostly only those who would not put down their arms. The killing there was done by the peasants and townsfolk. Lord Gilis of Enora was a brutal man, and the Enoran peasantry had long been the most friendly to Saalshen. They were closest to the Ipshaal, and many knew friends or family who had slipped across the river, and could testify to the kindness of the serrinim.
"When Saalshen's warriors came to Enora instead of the returning armies of Leyvaan, the peasants were thrilled. They rose up in a force too powerful for Saalshen to control, and Saalshen did not wish to offend their new friends and rob them of their new-found liberty. But the mobs killed every noble they could find, man, woman and child."
"And a good thing too," Dhael sighed. "They erased every claimant to the Enoran throne. Now, Enora is at peace. Rhodaan, however, is always crazy."
Sasha had heard as much. Enora was the site of the Enoran Grand Temple, holiest of the Verenthane holy sites, and the greatest single cause of the current troubles. But Enora itself was peaceful and secure, with villagers and townsfolk volunteering to form the impassable barrier of the Enoran Steel-one-third of the greatest fighting army ever known to humanity.
Rhodaan, however, was even more powerful. It had ports, ships and trade. Thus, Rhodaan had gold, and lots of it. The Rhodaani also had competing factions, powerful old families clinging to old loyalties from before the coming of the serrin, and a tendency to solve such disputes through force that continued to exasperate their more peaceful serrin friends.
"This was a smart move, though," said Sasha. "If they'd waited until the regent had mustered all forces on Rhodaan's doorstep, they'd never have had the strength to defend the Elissian flank. Best to deal with Elisse first, and get it out of the way."
"No," said Dhael, shaking his head. "It's a terrible decision."
"When the serrin came to Rhodaan," said Dhael, "my ancestors hoped that it was a new dawn. The serrin do not like war, and never engage in it by choice. Many of us have striven to make Rhodaan a place that will never resort to war. Least of all a war of aggression like this one."
"Aggression?" Sasha stared at him. "Regent Arrosh gathers the largest army ever seen in the Bacosh to assault you and your allies and Lord Arshenen of Elisse declares his support for them, and yet you claim this defensive action is a war of aggression?"
Dhael shrugged. "We attacked them. We crossed their border and invaded their lands, attacked their armies...."
"Semantics," Sasha snorted.
"You are Lenay, and Lenays like war," Dhael sighed. "Alas, even the grace of Saalshen has not swayed enough of my people from their love of bloodshed."
"Nor their will to defend themselves," Sasha retorted. "What you describe is suicide. How can you claim to love your people if you will not fight to defend them?"
"I love my people and I serve their interests," Dhael said shortly. "I was elected to the Council by my peers. It is not for you to question whether or not I love my people."
He got up, steadying himself as he found his balance, and departed. Kessligh shook his head. "I can't believe I brought you on a mission of diplomacy."
"He's supposed to be schooled in the learned tradition of serrin debate," said Sasha. "That means he's not supposed to walk off in a huff when I make a strong point."
"I'm quite sure you could walk into a Council of the most gentle and wise serrin thinkers," Kessligh said drily, "and have them all baying for your blood within the hour."
Sasha grinned. "You say the sweetest things." She rested her head briefly against his shoulder. Kessligh snorted. She was enjoying being more affectionate to Kessligh these days. In so many ways, he'd been her truest father, much more so than her blood father, King Torvaal of Lenayin. Their relationship had been turbulent, as the master swordsman had attempted to whip the wild brat tomboy into a passable swordsman and Nasi-Keth uma. He'd been the one man whose approval she'd truly craved, while at the same time resenting the power that gave him.
Lately, though, the resentment had faded. Much of the wisdom she'd questioned at the time had turned out to be wise after all, and while she continued to disagree with his outlook on many things, she had gained a newfound respect for the reasoning behind his views. He no longer intimidated her like he once had, which was partly because she had grown, and partly because they had reached a deeper understanding. She was a woman now, and a blooded warrior, a person to be feared by her enemies. And she knew now for certain that Kessligh loved her, however gruffly he might express it. He might have difficulty showing his feelings, but that did not mean she should.
"Dhael is an idealist," said Kessligh. "He knows serrin teachings well. He believes that if followed, humanity can become a peaceful race, like the serrin."
"I doubt it. Serrin are just different, they don't think as we do. If humanity is to find peace, we must find our own path to do so."
Kessligh shrugged. "Even so, it is important to understand his position. There are many like him, in the Saalshen Bacosh. The Bacosh has had so much war, and people look for solutions."
"Utopias," Sasha corrected.
"Some might say Saalshen itself is a utopia," Kessligh replied.
"But the serrin don't understand the concept," Sasha argued. "The serrin were always astonished that any human should think them so perfect. But serrin don't even understand a concept like 'perfection' either ... or rather they understand the idea, but they just can't accept it. It's always humans who come up with these stupid, simplistic notions, whether it's Verenthane fanatics who think serrin are evil, or pacifist fanatics like Dhael who think that somehow by imitating serrin ways they can make humans more serrin. I mean, he's crazy ... it's imitation. Any fool can decide to be pacifist, but if he doesn't understand why, like the serrin know why, what's he actually achieved?"
Excerpted from Tracato by JOEL SHEPHERD Copyright © 2010 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.
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Meet the Author
Joel Shepherd was born in Adelaide in 1974. He has studied film and television, and international relations, has interned on Capitol Hill in Washington, and has traveled 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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The war that I've been expecting since the first book, Lenayin's invasion of the Saalshen Bachosh, has finally started! I feel like it certainly took long enough. On that note, one thing I noticed is that this book, unlike the previous two in the series, jumps right into the action. There is very little time spent on new character development, which seems fair. We already know all the main characters pretty well at this point. The pace of the first two books in the Trial of Blood and Steel was pretty forumlatic. The first half or so of the book was spent learning about the characters and building up to some sort of battle scenes that only pertained to the book, not the series. I felt Tracato completely skipped the introductions and started instead at the first set of book-specific battle scenes, in this case being the Tracato civil war. Then it jumped to the series-wide conflict, the Toravan/Lenayin invasion of Enora. I was personally pleased to see this focus on action and moving forward the overall plot of the series, and I preferred the way character development was strewn throughout the book. It felt much more realistic, and I didn't feel like I had to fulfill some sort of characterization quota (which is saying something, because I love Sasha). It just... felt a little better paced to me. I look forward to the finale! (it is the finale, right?)
Following what occurred to them and others at Petrodor and knowing they are fortunate to be alive, Sasha, Kessleigh and Errolyn flee to what they hope is a haven in the Bacosh held territories. The trio stops at Tracato where they hope for a respite. However, the large city is tense with open dissension and hostilities between the serrin elected Council and their supporters, and the former powerful feudalists as the former replaced the latter two centuries ago but the former rulers want to be back in charge. As civil war from within threatens the city, the Verenthane faithful seem ready to invade Tracato. This places Sasha and her companions in jeopardy if anyone learns her family is major followers of the Verenthane. The latest Trial of Blood and Steel saga (see Sasha and Petrodor) is a terrific entry albeit it opens with too much of the back-story especially what occurred in Petrodor for returning readers (great for newcomers). Once that opening segue is completed and the lead trio flees the city for Tracato, the action goes hyper and never slows down as the power struggle explodes. Philosophies battle for domination leaving people like Sasha caught in the middle. Ironically the enlightened alien serrin has brought prosperity to the city, but are not human; while the human feudalists when they reigned they brought prosperity only to the elite. Yet ironically many humans support the feudalists because they are human too. Once the plot accelerates, Tracato is a thought provoking action-packed social fantasy. Harriet Klausner