Joshua P. Simon has proven himself to be a consistent writer of solid, character driven fantasy adventure. His Blood and Tears Trilogy (reviewed here, here, here, and here, interviewed here) was one of my favorite epic fantasy series of the last few years.
Now he’s turned his hand to a story that’s smaller in scope and more personal in nature, the sword and sorcery series he’s calling The Epic of Adnrasta and Rondel.
Andrasta is a woman from a distant country, a warrior who is out to steal a jewel in the Tower of Bashan. Rondel is a minstrel who got caught in the wrong bedroom. They meet in a dungeon when Andrasta is thrown in Rondel’s cell. Of course they escape, and shortly thereafter rescue a young woman named Dendera who turns out to be the daughter of a king. Since Rondel knew the king from his minstrel days, they return her home, hoping for a reward to finance their jewel heist.
Unfortunately, the Cult of Sutek is staging a comeback. They believe in human sacrifice and practice cannibalism. Not the sort of folks you want moving in down the block.
No sooner than Rondel and Andrasta return Dendera to her family, and an arranged marriage she had run away from, than the cult kidnaps her and gravely injures her father in the process. Rondel and Andrasta end up taking the blame.
Dendera’s younger brother Jahi knows that not only are they innocent, but the pair are his only hope of rescuing his sister. He frees them, and the trio sets off to find the princess. They don’t have much time. A day sacred to the cult is approaching in which they will sacrifice 100 virgins to Sutek after raping them on his altar. And Dendera is the 100th victim they’ve captured.
This volume was a little different than the Blood and Tears Trilogy in that there were only four viewpoint characters rather than a dozen or more. As I stated, the conflict was more personal, the scope of the story more limited.
Simon demonstrates that even with a limited pallet, he can still tell a solid, enjoyable story. Andrasta and Rondel are both damaged, wounded people who are having to find their way in life when things didn’t turn out the way they’d planned. In other words they’re interesting people who undergo a great deal of character development and growth. In fantasy novels, character development and growth are euphemisms for tough times.
Simon returns to some of his familiar themes. Family and its importance. Faithfulness. Doing the right things even when there’s a high cost.
But it’s Andrasta I want to focus on in this review. She was trained as a warrior, although she never had that respect that goes with being a warrior. There’s been a trend in recent years to have strong women characters who are equal to men in all respects. This all too often means the character is a man with boobs. It’s become a cliche, and a tired one at that.
Andrasta starts out that way. She was taught that caring for others and depending on them was a fatal weakness. When she and Rondel first team up, she despises him because he isn’t a warrior. By the end of the book, she is starting to change her perspective. She realizes there are other skills and characteristics that are important in life. Caring and compassion being among them. Andrasta starts out as a man with boobs but is in the process of transforming into a more feminine person. I really like this character arc because women are strong in ways that men aren’t. (I’m speaking in general terms here.) By having Andrasta embrace her feminine strengths without sacrificing her skill as a fighter, Simon is making her into a believable, balanced character, one the reader cares about and roots for.
The Cult of Sutek is a good introduction to Simon’s works. The next two books are out, so if you enjoy this one, you won’t have to wait to get the others. They’re priced at $2.99, but when I opened the author’s Smashwords page to put the link in, The Cult of Sutek was free. I don’t know how long that will last, so you might want to act fast.
I’d like to thank Mr. Simon for the review copy and offer my apologies for not getting the book read and the review posted sooner.