River of Souls trilogy (Beth Bernobich)

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River of Souls trilogy (Beth Bernobich)

Postby FranW » 11 Mar 2014, 09:22

The River of Souls trilogy: Passion Play, Queen's Hunt, and Allegiance
Author: Beth Bernobich
Publisher: Tor (2010, 2012, 2013)

Renaissance-style fantasy with court intrigue, power plays, wars, magic, reincarnation, and, of course, passion. The main character, Therez, is a fifteen year old suddenly betrothed by her father, against her wishes, to an older man who she finds handsome and fascinating but also very frightening. She's right to be frightened -- he's controlling, vindictive, abusive, and would make a really rotten husband. So, with no time to plan or enlist help, she runs away and changes her name to Ilse. (Not an unusual start to a fantasy novel.) And, not surprisingly, Ilse runs into more trouble than she left. (What's worse than one controlling, misogynistic, abusive man? Thirty of them.) The trouble she lands in is a lot more horrible than most fantasy heroines experience. It's portrayed realistically, while refraining from being graphic and detailed enough to turn the reader off.

Ilse finally gets away and after a lot more false starts finds a home, a career, and a new life as secretary to Raul, a nobleman estranged from court. Raul, she gradually learns, is very politically active in a behind-the-scenes kind of way, trying to prevent his king from starting wars with the neighbouring countries, (in between carrying on a torrid affair with his male lover). Part of this involves trying to find some magic jewels that all the kings are searching for; the kings want the jewels' power, and Raul's 'shadow court' want to keep them out of warmongering hands. Ilse gets drawn in and becomes a major player. She and Raul also fall in love.

It's a complex story with a complex plot and lots of players. Sexualities are pleasantly mixed -- Ilse is bisexual; Raul is a bisexual castrato; one of their compatriots is a courtesan by profession, lesbian by nature. Most of the characters are non-white, another nice touch. While Ilse's age didn't work for me -- running away at fifteen and landing in trouble worked, but her wisdom, maturity, complexity, knowledge, skills, cleverness, sophistication, and complex relationship with Raul were that of a thirty or forty year old, not a seventeen year old -- I just mentally added twenty years to her age and happily carried on. It's a beautifully written, engaging, and addictive series; once I started reading, I couldn't stop till I'd finished all three books.
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Re: River of Souls trilogy (Beth Bernobich)

Postby wildlx » 12 Mar 2014, 02:26

Your review made me think of Ellen Kushner's The privilege of the sword. I still haven't read the other books of the Riverside series.
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