Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Blood's Pride by Evie Manieri

Blood’s Pride by Evie Manieri is the first book in The Shattered Kingdoms series published by Tor; a synopsis can be found here. Manieri is an exciting new voice in the fantasy genre-- unafraid to break free from the shackles of rational world building. Instead, Pride is a passionate allegorical tale of romance set against a bloody slave uprising. Pride’s characters must come to terms with their present, the hidden lies of their past and, most importantly, their future.

Eschewing the intensive rational world building that dominates modern fantasy, Manieri opts for a potent allegory to drive Pride’s setting and characters. Some aspects that make little logical sense (such as the Norlander’s chill, the transformative properties of Shadari breast milk, and so forth) are actually potent literary devices. Those expecting a clear and rational fantasy setting may be challenged by that.

Blood’s Pride is centered on the Shadar, a coastal, temperate equatorial region inhabited by the Shadari. The Shadari are enslaved by the Norlanders who come from the frozen North. The South is occupied by the Nomas, who are nomadic desert merchants. The allegory is found within this setting. The Norlanders are bound by tradition and prize purity and control. They are pallid and cold in appearance and mien. The Nomas are free spirited, traveling to and fro with little care to tradition or lineage. They are lively in appearance, ruddy and golden, and their behavior is ebullient and welcoming. The North and South occupy polar-opposite belief systems. Between them are the Shadar, caught between tradition and change just as they are caught between the land and the sea. Conflict is inevitable.

The Norlanders enslave the Shadari both in body and in spirit; they represent the chains of tradition and the past. In the South, a mercenary known as “the Mongrel” promises to deliver the Shadari from enslavement and give them freedom. The Mongrel represents freedom, change and the promise of the future. The Shadari embody the present, torn between the dueling forces of past and future.

Within this allegory, Manieri creates an arresting tale of romance, friendship and family. The Shadari rebellion, so heavy marketed by Tor, is little more than a catalyst for events and fades into the background. The relationships between the characters tell the true story. The three core romances are between Daryan (Shadari) and Isa (Norlander), Eofar (Norlander) and Harotha (Shadari), and Jachad (Nomas) and Meiran (Spoiler). Each relationship is a classic tale of star-crossed lovers, designed to maximize the effect of the allegory. As the story advances, each of the characters must face his or her past and overcome it. Each must navigate and survive the future while clinging to love. And finally, each must decide what future he or she wants. Will the character throw away her past and chart a new course; abandoning her people and responsibility? Or, will she honor her past and endanger their love, so hard won? The tension is captivating.

The most compelling aspect of this struggle are the secrets of the past. Each of the main characters is defined by a great lie that they have told themselves or the ones they love. Whereas the world is an external allegory, the lies are an internal allegory. Each lie is a keystone to the character. It is a secret of the past that defines the present and will determine the future. How the characters struggle and overcome these lies is at the center of the narrative.

A number of fascinating flourishes that hammer home the allegory; primary among them are the various languages. The Norlanders utilize a psychic language that conveys thoughts and emotions. Control over emotions is paramount. The Nomas use a traditional verbal language but can also learn the Norlander language. The Shadari use a verbal language but, for reasons unknown, cannot learn the Norlander language.

This creates a series of intriguing conflicts. The Norlanders hate sound due to their psychic means of speaking. Yet they are forced to speak to their slaves the Shadari, surrendering control and submitting to aural discomfort. The Norlanders are also un-used to expressing their emotions verbally. This creates some neat friction and interplay between the Norlander and Shadari couples.

The differences in body temperature are also fascinating. The Norlanders are cold to the touch while the Shadari and Nomas are hot. The Shadari and Nomas will physically burn and cause pain to the Norlanders if they touch. Yet, by some means, the romantic couples can touch each other. The burning pain becomes passion instead. It’s a neat flourish that really amps up the romantic interplay.

Lastly, it was deeply satisfying to see the realistic cost to relationships-- romantic, familial and fraternal. There are no truly happy endings. Every character pays a price, and Manieri uses the narrative to hammers home the reality and value of love. The small victories are hard won and ever the sweeter. The fleeting moments are treasured; the future is planned. It deepens the narrative in a way that saccharine wording could never attain.

There was not much I disliked about Blood’s Pride. I think the prose had a few uneven spots in wording and structure, but it rarely hurt the story. Given that I am reviewing and ARC, these issues may have already been addressed. My greatest concern is for the remaining installments of The Shattered Kingdoms. So much of my enjoyment depends on the allegorical setting; how will Manieri extend the world, but preserve this potent tool? I think the transition into book two could be difficult. However, that is not a qualified critique of Pride so much as a baseless critique of an unknown future.

Blood’s Pride is such a wonderful book. It is complex and rich and brings to the fantasy genre something sorely missed from a major release: romance and freedom from magical realism. I admire the trust Manieri and Tor must have in fantasy readers to publish such a book. I wish this were a more frequent occurrence. There is much to love about Pride, and I have left a lot undiscussed. I look forward to the remainder of The Shattered Kingdoms series. I highly recommend Blood’s Pride and I fully expect it to be in my best of 2013 list. Blood’s Pride burns with a passion fueled by bold prose and an evocative allegory. Read it.

Memorable Quotes:
"Dramash was waving goodbye."
"There was something on the other side of that burning pain, and she wanted it."
"She felt the screams in her sore and swollen heart and she squeezed that too, burying the treacherous organ under layers after layer of ice so strong that it choked off every pulse; she kept piling it on, letting all of her senses slide away so that nothing -- not the soldiers' embarrassment not Frea's disdain, not the sunlight's piercing rays, not the memory of her mother's screams, not the deadly pull of the city below -- could get near her."
"It wasn't enough that they belonged to each other: he was a king, whether she liked it or not -- and she was afraid she a was already loosing him."
"She opened her fist and let it go."
"<But the water's getting in,> Frea whimpered."
"<Maybe we were both tied to too many other things. Maybe neither of us could let go of the past.>"
"Lahlil looked over her should and into his sea-blue eyes. 'I think I'm happy.'"
Macillan: Blood's Pride by Evie Manieri
Image Source: Mcmillan
Review Copy: Netgalley Digital Galley
ISBN: 978-1-4299-5995-7