historical fantasy

The New Sword by Ada Robinson cover image

Local Author Book Review #15: The New Sword, by Ada Robinson

Yes, here’s yet another book review. I decided to pack December with reviews of indie authors’ books I’ve read recently.

The New Sword is the sequel to The New Fire, which I reviewed here a couple of years ago. The two main characters, Sakela and Francisco, are now married, but their happiness is imperfect.

“The reserved soldier does not enter into family life the way Sakela wishes he would. When he swears allegiance to a corrupt viceroy, she suspects he has abandoned the values she cherishes. Then rebellion threatens to tear apart their marriage and their community. In spite of his love for Sakela, Francisco feels isolated from her. He sees a way through the coming conflict, but only at the cost of his honor and possibly his life.”                                        (Quoted from the back cover)

Although the narration is in third person, the point of view alternates between Sakela and Francisco, so the reader knows what both of them are thinking. Scenes with both characters present are relatively rare, emphasizing the central issue of the novel, which is the disconnect between them. For the most part, each follows a path determined by circumstances and personal principles, unable or unwilling to explain their choices to the other.

To a certain extent, this works, especially when Francisco’s way of dealing with a number of unpleasant choices becomes evident. As his strategy plays out, the man himself is taken in a surprising direction that results in a fundamental change. In the meantime, Sakela is left in the dark, dealing with conflict and danger while she fears her marriage is falling apart. A swashbuckling sea captain enters the picture as a not altogether unwelcome, but disturbing, diversion.

This book, like the first one, The New Fire, does not fit neatly into any genre category. It’s not really a romance, although the relationship between Sakela and Francisco is one of its primary elements. It’s not historical, because the setting and peoples are entirely fictitious, although based on the Spanish and native peoples in California and Mexico. It’s not a fantasy, because there is no magic or supernatural elements. 

Moreover, the author’s intent to show different approaches toward government and social organization is quite close to the surface of the narrative, giving the story a gravitas quite removed from escapist fiction. Some readers may find this disconcerting. To me, the characters and their conflicts were realistic enough that I was eager to find out how things turned out for them. This carried me through to the end, which is both satisfying and thought-provoking.

My rating: 8 out of 10 stars.

Find out more about author Ada Robinson, along with background information and where to buy her books here.

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Local Author Book Review #4: The New Fire by Ada Robinson

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The New Fire by Ada Robinson is a historical novel about a history that never happened set in a place that does not exist. But it reads as though rooted in a real place and time.

This is from the back cover:

Imagine a land blending the geography of California, the technology of medieval Spain and the theology of pagan Rome. Isolated by distance and slave-hunters, the community of Iktalan has diverged from its Hispani roots.

Ada Robinson has taken pains to craft her fictional world and its inhabitants, rendering vividly its geography, economy and cultures. The Iktalai and a related people, the Zalatai, are the native peoples of the region. The Iktalai have had more contact with the Hispani, who come from Nueva Hispania on the other side of the mountains; indeed, they have intermarried at some point. Then there are the fearsome Bakai, enemies of all three peoples, who raid coastal settlements to take prisoners and slaves, using repugnant means to subdue them.

The story plays out over a period of months, during which a treaty is negotiated between the Iktalai and the Hispani, guaranteeing protection of Iktalan from the Bakai by the Hispani army in exchange for tribute.

Woven into this tapestry is the story of Sakela, a young Iktalai woman who represents her community in the treaty negotiations and serves as a herbalist and healer. She encounters dangers and challenges, not least among them the need to overcome a personal tragedy. In the course of these adventures she meets the new Governor of Tierra Ermosa, Don Francisco Montoya, and a warrior of the Zalatai who is also her cousin.

Robinson’s prose is clear and direct, outlining with equal clarity religious ceremonies, community feasts, military operations and issues around land claims and taxation. The human stories are nearly obscured by the volume and detail of this information, especially in the opening chapters. Some readers may be discouraged by this, but persistence is rewarded by several tense situations and their resolution, only to be followed by additional complications.

The technique of creating a fictional world that engages readers by its similarity to the real one, while allowing the writer freedom to plot, has been used in several well-known novels by Guy Gavriel Kay. Robinson has accomplished something similar in this novel, with less drama and intensity, perhaps, but with admirable sincerity and thoroughness.

My rating: 8 stars out of 10.

The New Fire is available as an ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and at the iBookstore, as well as in print from Amazon. It is also part of the Greater Victoria Public Library’s Emerging Local Authors Collection.