I picked up this book for two reasons: it had good reviews, and one of the main characters is a woman who disguised herself as a man and joined the army. The latter is reminiscent of Mulan, my favorite Disney “princess” movie – yes, I know she’s not technically a princess, but shh – so I had high expectations for the book. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but it didn’t disappoint.
The basic story is a sort of colony/territory tension tale. The territory is Khandar, and it is claimed by Vordanai. People in Khandar are not all happy with being under Vordan control though, and some start to form a rebellion. The Vordan army retreats to a small corner of Khandar until reinforcements arrive, and then they march out to squash the uprising.
Given that synopsis, you’d probably want to root for the rebellion. However, the main characters of the story are all part of the Vordan army. There’s the steadfast Captain Marcus d’Iovoire, who is loyal, reliable, and gallant, but a tad old-fashioned and not terribly creative. Then there’s Winter Ihernglass, who starts as a foot soldier but gets promoted to a command position, which is a problem since Winter is a woman in disguise. Last is Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, an odd but brilliant man who you want to like, but never fully trust.
Of the three, Marcus d’Ivoire was probably the least interesting. But that doesn’t mean he’s un-interesting, just that Winter and Janus outshine him. Marcus has both strengths and flaws, and provides a “normal” – aka male – soldier’s perspective. His normal-ness and military experience also helps highlight how odd Janus is.
Winter. Ah, Winter. She’s Mulan with a musket. Sort of. She is Mulan in the sense that she’s a woman masquerading as a man in the army, but there are some key differences I’ll discuss in the Spoiler section. She starts off a bit timid, but steps up to the challenge when promoted and grows into her role. The book was a bit slow at first, but my desire to follow this particular character’s journey kept me interested.
Colonel Janus is young, intelligent, and seems to be something of a military prodigy. As the book goes by, I experienced the odd conflict of growing to like him more, but not growing to trust him more. He has a habit of keeping plans and information from his subordinates that couldn’t prove very problematic at some point, if not villainous.
Considering that this book revolved around an army fighting to regain control of a colony, the fighting felt very light. Battles were not the protracted, exhausting, multi-chapter affairs one might expect from other books. Instead they were almost more like highlight reels, and I was fine with that. The fighting wasn’t meant to be the focus in this book – the three main characters are the focus – so it works.
One of the big differences between Winter and Mulan is that Winter is at least bisexual, possibly gay. She doesn’t end up with Marcus or Janus, as one might expect from a YA book or Disney film, and in fact there’s a feeling that she may not hook up with a guy at all.
It also turns out that Winter is not the only woman in the army. Bobby turns out to be a young woman too, and after she’s seriously injured, Winter convinces a magic user to heal her with a magic ritual. The ritual has lingering side effects, like oddly colors skin at the site of the wound, and there’s a hint that Bobby could be destined for great things, or to help Winter to do great things. I hope this is examined in the next book.