If you're like me, you are going to adore The Sleeping God, a fantasy book written by Violette Malan and published in 2007.
I am an avid reader of fantasy genres which involve well-armed women. I am always looking for stories with depth, philosophy, and novelty. It takes more than witty one-liners from a sharp shooter to get me past the first chapter, and much more than a sweet talking elven love interest.
The Sleeping God did it, though the first chapter was touch and go. I thought Violette Malan was going to use an easy plot - the main characters defend "magic" innocents against the big bad religious "corporation". But the language was good; there was obviously more going on than just a self-righteous priest burning the house of a clairvoyant; and best of all, there were the main characters: Dhulyn - a straight talking, fast punching woman who liked books and had PMS; and Parno - a more pampered but just as deadly, blonde-haired sweet talker. They were Partnered mercenaries.
If you're like me, mercenaries are one of your favorite character groups. And you know that the vocation of mercenary is not a light-hearted, easy calling; nor is it necessarily an emotional one. It is about death. Not for country, or personal agenda, or even family, but fighting (and most likely killing) for money. The Brotherhood of Mercenaries created by Violette Malan lives up to that pragmatism. They are trained and bonded and, if they survive the schooling, go forth (like our heroes) to earn money doing amazing things until they find death, preferably at the hands of another mercenary.
Of course, if you're like me, a book cannot live on a the awesomeness of its main characters alone. It needs a backdrop of history, culture, classes and philosophies - familiar enough to recognize, exotic enough to intrigue. Again, Violette Malan came through. The world of The Sleeping God is rich with culture; and the author uses conversations and observations to reveal that backdrop, as well as to paint the intricate design of motive and mystery which drive the characters and carry the reader to the intriguing climax.
What Violette Malan did not do was make the rookie mistakes. She did not dump her characters' back story into a long agonizing chapter. She did not baldly state the major hurdle of the story, nor the solution. The villain was not immediately evident; and the characters were not oblivious to certain cues just to make the plot move forward.
Still, the part that made me love this book, the thing that gives this book 5 out of 5 stars, is the portrayal of the antagonist, and how situation is resolved.
So, I must include a slight spoiler - I can't help it.
***** If you're like me, the villain is the best part of this book. He (to use proper English) is complex, unearthly, inhuman. And the motives behind his actions slowly unfold as evil only from a certain point of view. To me, this was intoxicating. Because, if you're like me, you know black and white are just colors, not guides to good and bad, and it is so rare to find a fantasy writer able to show this dilemma from all sides.
Even more wonderfully amazing, the finale with the inhuman, unearthly bad guy was appropriate, even compassionate, and definitely befitting of the depth and character of the world created and the characters who enact it. *************
end slight spoiler.
So. We have mercenaries, good writing, great development, an interesting world, and an unexpected and totally righteous ending (if you're like me.) As an added bonus, there were delicate homages to other worlds and authors I have read, which made me feel a kinship with Ms. Malan.
Yes, there are some flaws in the book. Some of the cues and clues seemed too sparse, others a little too thick. There is wordiness; and sometimes I was confused about who was talking, or what they were talking about. Some avenues were laid out, but never fully explored. And there are some formatting issues with the e-reader which made reading, um, interesting. But if you're like me, you'll think The Sleeping God is worth every awkward moment and you'll rush to buy to the next book in the series.
Sadly, if you're like me, you'll find the rest of the series does not live up to the glorious beginning. Each book (there are 3 more) becomes progressively more "usual" in plot and action. I read them all because the world is still fascinating, the inhabitants are ever more complex and interesting, and the writing is still good. But for me, the first book of the Dhulyn and Parno series is the best book so far.
So if you are like me, read The Sleeping God. Keep it in your "again please" pile or list. And then join me in trying The Mirror Prince, same author, same year, different world. I have high hopes.
Thank you. I hope you have a great day!