This is the second book in the Sisters of Sarras series, but it is not necessary to have read the previous book to settle comfortably into this one.
We open in prison. Veronique “Roni” Bisset has been caught coming down the outside of a building where she has just had the easiest steal of her life. Pity for her there were two guards patrolling right then. She ran (“Everybody runs.”) and during her run, has hidden the jewels away under a footbridge. Eventually, she is chased down and hauled away to the hoosegow. While there, she figures this stay won’t last long, and starts doing the math to figure out what the jewels are worth, and then how much the cuts are going to cost her – especially the cut to the local crime syndicate, for operating in their territory. As Roni does not belong to any syndicate, the cuts are of course higher.
Zara del Amanecer (Zara of the Dawn) is a scout for the Sarrassian forces, leading scouting missions to the border to ensure no Firellian incursions into the country. It’s fairly clear Zara is on the autism spectrum (most likely: Aspberger’s), but she’s an excellent scout, leads her team well, and has just returned from a mission. She’s also the controller of the Vox Ferama, a sort of metal bird she can use when wearing a particular chain on her wrist and hand, tied in a particular way. While back in the city, she uses the Vox to fly around, and then runs into – and manages to insult – the daughter of a colonel in the army. Zara doesn’t understand why it’s an insult, as she’s only speaking truth, and that’s par for the course with her throughout the book: things are black and white, up or down, part of the mission or not.
Roni gets a shock when it becomes clear she is in fact going to be sent to prison, and she’s a bit worried about this as one would be. While being led out, the leader of the local syndicate, Julia Esposito, tells her that she’s a dead woman. But things change when the army decides on a rehab program for nonviolent offenders: Roni and some others are taken to the army compound and placed under the leadership of Zara.
Zara, for her part, is distressed, as this throws her orderly world into chaos. But she manages to talk herself down into a new order, and the new “soldiers” are started on training. During Roni’s training, the goon Hacha (Axe/Hatchet) from Esposito’s syndicate tells her they have a deal: Ronis will liberate the Vox from Zara and hand it over to Esposito. Roni doesn’t know what that is, but agrees.
Training finished, Zara and her troops head out on their next mission. What they find is almost impossible to believe, but the rumor of a very heavy weapon in the hands of the Firellians turns out to be very true.
Roni reminded me quite a lot of the character Tas from the old (mid-1980s) Dragonlance series. She often says things without thinking, especially when it comes to Zara and her attraction to Zara. This rocks Zara from time to time,trying to process a “soldier” speaking out of turn to a superior officer, but also trying to determine what to do with the flirting. Beyond that, we don’t get much of a rounded character in Roni.
Zara, however, is a fully realized character, and also learns during the last part of the book that at times, you have to give up control of something to save your own life, which in turn will save the live of others.
This is a primarily fantasy novel, with the romance an incredibly slow burn. As is often the case, the dustup between the two is caused by them not talking to one another, even though they had been doing quite well on that front as the book went along at the end.
There’s a consistency issue with the name of the woman in charge of the local crime syndicate -she’s referred to as Julia at the beginning, then Judith around the middle, and then she’s not spoken of again until Hacha comes calling, to force Roni to betray Zara and her fellow troops.
Overall, it’s a fun read. I had hopes, based on the blurb, that we might be seeing fantasy sitting on a Castillian framework, versus the Middle Ages England most authors use, but beyond the names of Zara, Hacha, and a few of the soldiers/officers, there wasn’t enough to say one way or the other.
Four out of five stars.