by Sherwood Smith
In spite of my recent obsession with naval fiction, I have not entirely given up my survey of the fantasy genre. When I chose this book, it helped that it promised a bit of both. Set in a world crafted with a Tolkienesque variety of made-up landscapes, languages, cultures, and political forces, it features a boy of remarkable gifts who, by the end of four thick books, will become a great military leader on land and sea. His name, at least to begin with, is Indevan-Dal Algara-Vayir. You can call him Inda.
Inda is the second son of a landed prince in the kingdom of Iasca Leror, where the native Iascans are the common people, who have not yet forgotten that they were conquered by the Marlovans, a warlike people from the north. To this day the Marlovans speak a kind of pidgin in which their ancestral tongue is reserved for military matters, while anything to do with farming and everyday business is spoken in Iascan. They specialize in a kind of warfare carried out chiefly on horseback, and they practice strange social customs, in which the eldest son (whether of the king or of any nobleman) is trained in warfare at a military academy in the royal capital, and then in turn the eldest son trains his younger brother to be his "shield arm," to defend his territory right up to the castle walls. Inside the walls, meanwhile, defense is laid to the charge of the ruler's wife, and because marriages are arranged at birth (if not earlier), a daughter is frequently fostered off to be raised in the household of her betrothed, and trained from girlhood to perform these defensive duties when she becomes the master's wife.
So, it's not a really easy-going culture in which Inda was born. You feel for him from the beginning, because he is very clever and he has a heart of gold. Even as a boy of eleven years old, he shows tremendous potential as a strategist. So he is really delighted when the King's Shield Arm (Sierandel, and later Harskialdna, to use the Marlovan titles before and after the kingdom goes to war) summons all the second sons to his academy and begins training them for the expected war with the Venn of the far north. Inda takes to the Academy like a fish to water. Unfortunately, for reasons he cannot begin to comprehend, the Sierandel seems to feel threatened by him. Just when a boy of Inda's gifts seems to be what the kingdom really needs, a villainous plot to discredit him leads to horrendous tragedy.
When I reached the midpoint of this book, I was so excited that I had to call my father and tell him about it. I did so at great length, but to whet his appetite I opened with the following analogymaybe it will excite you too. Suppose, when Harry Potter went back to Hogwarts for his second year studying wizardry, that when he crashed the flying car into the whomping willow, his humorous friend Ron Weasley was killed. Then suppose that Professor Snape, having rigged the car to crash, now conspired to have Harry take the blame for Ron's death. And, instead of continuing his studies at Hogwarts, suppose the heartbroken Harry was now expelled and hustled off, for his own protection, to where Voldemort would never look for him — say, the first departing vessel of the merchant marine. Wouldn't that be a stunner? And that's just the first half of the book!
Inda does, indeed, become a ship's boy in the merchant marine, while his "Hermione" at the Academya king's second son nicknamed Spongetries to carry on as leader of the second-son scrubs. The Royal Shield Arm's evil designs continue to mature, designs which involve holding Sponge back in any way possible. Sponge's older brother, the Sierlaef (another Marlovan title, there), makes eyes at the betrothed of Inda's older brother, and hatches evil plans of his own. Rumors of pirate attacks on sea, and of a Venn blockade retaliating for the Marlovans' latest war of expansion, continue to trickle in. Inda's intended, the sweet young Tdor, waits and hopes for his return.
And on the high seas, Inda and his shipmates pull together as a band of mercenary marines, specializing in protecting merchants against pirates. They do fairly well at that until, in the final pages of this book, Inda wakes up with a pain in his head after a fierce battle and learns that he has a choice: join the pirates or die... After reading this, I wasted not a moment in laying hands on the second book in this quartet: The Fox.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 14+
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