Genre: fantasy romance.
Before the Sons of Destiny came to be, shapechangers ruled the heart of a shattered empire and navigated the uncertain shifts of fate…
Years have passed since there was any sighting of Family Mongrel on the Shifting Plains. Yet traces remain, and they lead south into the Correda Mountains. As a favor to his brother and sister-in-law, Kenyen Sin Siin has taken it upon himself to track down those hints from the past and make sure the curs have not survived. The trail grows colder, more tangled, until he’s trapped in a valley where not everyone is as they seem. He will either adapt and survive or be uncovered and perish before his mission is complete.
Wary of strangers and distrustful of the unfamiliar, Solyn Ys Rei and her best friend have formed a secret resistance. One of a rare few with the ability to stand up to and evade enemies, she must still tread with great caution, particularly when even her best friend starts acting oddly. Allies could be enemies lurking in disguise, and a stranger’s face could hide a new foe as easily as a new friend.
Since it has been three years since the first book was published, it took me a while to get back in the story. I had to read the last few chapters again, which was certainly not a hardship, as I loved that book. In that story, Tava was rescued from the Mornai by Kodan Sin Siin and brought back to his people, the Shifterai. A race of shapeshifters. Only one in 50 females is a shapeshifter though, so they are rare and priced, and the leaders of the Shifterai. The more different but pure shapes a shifter can hold, the more standing he or she has.
Tava’s mother was held as a slave by a band of evil and banished Shifters, who mock the ways of the Shifting Plains, and treat women as dirt, only good for cooking and rutting. To find out if those who call themselves Clan Mongrel are still alive and abusing women, a small warband is send out to find them and bring them to justice. Kodan’s younger brother Kenyen is one of the warriors investigation the trails and rumors.
One of the men in the warband has a brother who was banished years ago for almost raping a maiden. Bellar is still visiting his brother every now and then, and has volunteered to work as a guide. But so far, he hasn’t been much of one, and he almost wanted them not to enter the cave, and he certainly does not want Kenyen to investigate the back of it. But Kenyen shifts into his snake form, and slithers through the strange rockfall to the back of the cave. And there he finds the evidence they have been looking for. The remains of a bound and tortured man, and the strange inscription he made using a rock, that he was the real Tunric Tel Vem. After questioning Bellar, they found out that the banished brother has made a living for himself in the hills, and has asked Bellar to send all other banished criminals to him for a job and a second chance. As they cannot clearly read the name of the place the dead man came from, the warband decides to investigate in multiple places to safe time. They have already wasted to much.
Kenyen is send to Northern Correda, a place called Nespah. On his way there, he meets a young man who is clearly running from something, almost killing his horse in the process. The Shifterai are great horsebreeders and take good care of their horses, so seeing the abuse, he is not happy with the young man. But when Traver tells his story, Kenyen soon forgets about it. Apparently, some rich and powerful men have changed greatly in the last few years, becoming brutes and abusing their women. Traver has come upon a bonfire in the forest one day, when hunting in the night to prove his manhood, and saw a band of man. To his horror, they shifted their faces and became people he knew, and strangers. Over 20 of them. Which explains the shifts in behaviour of the men he knows, as they are imposters! They also abused the woman they had with them, dressed in rags and covered in filth and bruises. They clearly are searching for something, and Traver will have to protect that secret. To Kenyen, it is a travesty, it is forbidden to shapeshift into someone else! Only animals are permitted, and then as pure as possible.
But before Traver and Kenyen can get back on the road to the leaders of his warband, Traver is captured by the man he was trying to flee from. And only quick thinking of Kenyen can safe them both. Kenyen pretends to be one of them, banished from the Shifting Plains, and looking for some quick reward. He tells him, he was banished for eating people, and enjoying their screams. And so Kenyen gets taking into their group and told to impersonate Traver, and ingratiate himself in the household of his fiancée. Her mother is a powerful Healer, and her father is a famous blacksmith. There he should search for some secret, but they won’t tell him what it is. Traver has to tell Kenyen as much as he can about himself and his daily life and habits, so Kenyen can take over his life.
Faking some injuries and a concussion is simple for Kenyen, and he quickly becomes Traver. Only Solyn is suspicious. She never was attracted to Traver before, them being engaged was just an excuse to get Tarquin Tun Nev to stop bothering her, but he is just different. More sure of himself, more graceful in his motions, just more. And she is attracted to him! And so Solyn confronts Traver/Kenyen, and Kenyen is just happy to confess it all and get an ally. He just doesn’t feel right to have feelings for another man’s fiancée. In the Plains, maidens are treated with a lot of respect, and “twining” is only done by married people. There are earth priestesses for helping a man with his needs if necessary. Usually widows who have chosen the profession. So when Solyn wants more than his kisses, he refuses.
Solyn is a mage, and she really needs to go to the capital to get a good education, but for now she needs to stay home to protect her parents. Her mother has been experimenting with herbal infusions and how they can affect steel, ever since bluesteel was discovered. Bluesteel is capable of marking shifters permanently, and is used to brand them as criminals and people who are banished for their crimes. And now both she and her husband have discovered greensteel, which can heal the most severe scars. Just cut them open, and the wounds will heal seamlessly. With greensteel, the criminals can remove their marks, and go back to the plains to exact their revenge. Which is why the secret can never fall into their hands.
I did like this book, even though it is very slow paced, and I would have loved some more action and suspense. The daily life of Traver and Solyn is described in great detail, and it was fun to read as they got to know each other, and fall in love, but still, it was slow. It never really did bore me, but I was hoping for some more action, more bad deeds or threats by the Clan Mongrel. Only in the end there was some fighting.
I liked Kenyen, he is a great character. He has grown up in the shadow of his older brother, who is a multerai, a shapeshifter with more than 10 shapes. Kenyen “only” has seven. Which is still more than average, and he is a good fighter and trader. I liked him, and how respectful he is of his own people’s customs, and those of Solyn’s people. But he is not a wimp, and stands up for his beliefs.
Solyn is 22, so not a very young girl. She is a mage, and is learning her mother’s Healing magic. But her own is not in the Healing range, so there is not much she can do. She really wants to go to the capital and get a good education. Will Kenyen go with her, or will he insist on taking her home with him? She will be treasured by his people, who have very little natural mages born among them.
Jean Johnson sure knows how to create a world, paint a village life with her words, and make her characters come to a 3 dimensional life. I enjoy her writingstyle, and her imagination and her stories. I like that her shifters are not just one kind of animal or people, but that a shifter can decide which animal he would like to learn to be, and not just the big predators. Kenyen for instance is a wolf, a hunting cat, a stripe-cat, a viper, a magpie, a horse and an owl.
I do hope there will be more books in this series.
© 2012 Reviews by Aurian