This is an interesting book which I enjoyed a great deal, although with a few reservations. I loved the setting - Anuna's people live in a village built under an overhanging rock shelter, in the style of many such found in the southwestern US and Mexico. This is an unusual and evocative setting, very nicely drawn. The author has also created a beautifully detailed world view, a religion combined with a magic system, which makes perfect sense. The early part of the book, which describes how Anuna becomes a 'Weaver' (spiritual leader and healer) to her people is lovely, and the little traditional stories scattered throughout the book are charming.
The characters are more of a mixed bag. Anuna herself is a very sympathetic character, whose anxieties are perfectly in keeping with her age and experience. She knows herself to be capable, but she is easily cast into despair and needs constant reassurance. However, her growth in confidence during the story and the way she takes up the role of leader while retaining her humilty is very believable. Baran, too, comes across as a fully rounded person, and Dog, of course, is a wonderful character.
The villain is a little too black to be truly believable. The author makes a good effort to give him redeeming qualities and the sort of history which explains his behaviour, even if it doesn’t excuse it, but still I found him just too evil to be realistic, and his men seemed too ready to follow him unquestioningly. And then there are the kidnapped women from Anuna’s village. Oh dear, what a bunch of useless victims. Even given their beliefs and the horror of the situation, I would have expected a touch more resilience and common sense. Given that a large part of the plot revolves around them, it’s a pity they’re not a bit more robust.
The plot is a fairly simple one: while Anuna is off in seclusion becoming a Weaver, her village is raided and almost everyone killed, apart from four women taken off to become breeding stock for the raiders. There are no swords, no battles, no kings or empires, no duelling wizards, no quest to save the world. The only fights are the scuffling in the dirt variety, with the occasional dagger, spear or kick to the groin. This is a very basic story of survival in very trying circumstances, the battle of good and evil writ very small and personal. I had some issues with the women’s belief that suicide is the only honourable solution to the defilement of rape, but the author addresses the idea head on, so it doesn’t go unchallenged. For those sensitive to the subject, rape is a central theme but there is nothing graphic or erotic in the depiction of it, although I confess to some unease at the heroine’s sexual response in a context of captivity, brutality and rape.
The author’s writing style is rather nice, detailed and descriptive without being overwrought. However, there’s a great deal of angsting amongst the women, a lot of crying and even falling into swoons, with I don’t have much patience with, I’m afraid. There’s also a lack of polish - numerous minor typos (not spelling or grammatical errors, so much as mistypes - ‘it’ for ‘in’ and the like - plus words missed out and odd extra words, as if an edit failed to remove all the unwanted words). A character called Korak later becomes Karak. And a logic fail - a major plot point is that two of the village women reject Anuna because she is now ‘tainted’, except that one of the women, Orana, is herself ‘tainted’ in exactly the same way. Hypocrisy by the women, or an error?
There are also outbreaks of total stupidity on the part of some of the characters. Who, given the choice of being burned alive or trying to escape, would actually say - no thanks, we’ll burn? And who, having reached safety, would actually turn round and go back for them? In fantasy, all sorts of improbable things can happen, but (magic aside) human nature remains the same, and some actions just aren’t credible.
Despite these quibbles, I enjoyed the story and tore through it a couple of days. There is a strong romance element, and for those who like large-scale action and epic dilemmas, this is not the book for you, but I rather liked it, especially the unusual setting and the well-thought-out magic/religious system. And Dog, who has a starring role. The negatives keep it to three stars.