This is another Kristell Ink author – I’ve been very impressed with the writing of authors Joanne Hall, see my review of Rider here and White Mountain written by Sophie E. Tallis, here, would this epic Fantasy offering reach the same high standard?
When a demon sneaks into the mortal world and murders an innocent girl to get to her sister Chaeli, all pretence of peace between the gods is shattered. For Chaeli is no ordinary mortal, she is a demi-goddess, in hiding for centuries, even from herself. But there are two divine brothers who may have fathered her, and the fate of Ibea rests on the source of her blood. Chaeli embarks on a journey that tests her heart, her courage, and her humanity. Her only guides are a man who died a thousand years ago in the Dragon Wars, a former assassin for the Underworld, and a changeling who prefers the form of a cat. And there you have part of the blurb.
As you may have gathered, this is a classical epic fantasy, complete with many of the themes and conventions you’d expect. The protagonist is pleasingly complex and the evident latent power she possesses but doesn’t yet really understand or properly know was well handled. I also liked her edges. While she is harried and on the run, reliant on the kindness of strangers, it doesn’t mean she is overly submissive or biddable – or stridently, unbelievably stroppy either. It’s a balance harder to achieve than Smith makes it look. In fact, the writing is accomplished and smooth.
Triangular relationships are difficult to pull off, without the woman in the middle looking like a conniving flirt and Smith has the two heroes falling in love with Chaeli. However, I really like how she sets up the relationships, where gods get involved, using mortals in their power struggles. It’s a nifty way of setting up a situation that causes plenty of ongoing tension and heartache and certainly had me very much caring about the outcome. It’s a familiar theme that runs through much epic Fantasy and yet Smith’s character-led approach makes her take on this engrossing and readable.
World-building is always crucial in this genre, and it can be something of a stumbling block for me. While I always enjoy a detailed, believable world, I do end up skimming pages of description – not so with In Search of Gods and Heroes. Smith’s depiction of the cut-throat atmosphere of court, a city where everyone is frightened and subdued, and the initial calm freedom of the academic atmosphere of Lindor gives a wide-ranging backdrop to her ongoing adventure, providing a vivid and complex world.
As you may have gathered, I really enjoyed this one. Any niggles? Well, it’s more of an observation and something of a risk. While Smith sets a number of plotlines running, by the end of the first book – and it’s a reasonably hefty read at 400+ pages – there is no resolution to any of the ongoing stories. For some reason I’m still not able to fathom, I found I was fairly relaxed about this. Perhaps it’s because halfway through the book I promised myself that I’d dive into the next book as soon as I can. But if you really mind about having a payoff by the end of a book, then be warned, In Search of Gods and Heroes is very much the start of a series.
This sub-genre isn’t an automatic favourite of mine – I’ve trudged through far too many over-written, long-winded tomes with nothing fresh or original to say. But after reading a book of this calibre, I also know why I haven’t given up on it. And if you’re a fan of Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series, Glenda Larke, Elspeth Cooper and Helen Lowe, and you haven’t yet had the pleasure, go look and track this one down. You’ll be thanking me if you do.