book review

Review: Besieged by Rowena Cory Daniells

I should be writing, I should, but I’m starting to get ridiculously behind on my book reviews, which isn’t a bad thing really – it means I’m reading faster than I can write reviews… or someone’s seriously messing with time (if so – STOP IT!).

Aaaanyway… it’s book review time! Today we’re venturing into the fantastical world of Rowena Cory Daniells’ Outcast Chronicles. While I’ve read the trilogy in its entirety, here I’ll be chatting about the first in the series – Besieged. (Oh, and a special shout out to Ashely Capes for putting me onto this trilogy, too! Thanks, buddy!)

Now before we go any further, I have a marching band mustering stage right with the requisite spoiler alert, and they’re getting antsy…

<Enter marching band to the strains of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Master Blaster’ – because Stevie>

EVERYONE’S SEEING SPOILERS! IT’S A SPOILER IN JUNE! THOUGH THE WORLD’S FULL OF SPOILERS, THEY COULDN’T SPOIL US EVEN IF THEY TRIED!

Well technically you could be spoiled if you continue reading. So as the marching band exits stage left, either take your seat and continue reading (ignoring my dancing) or follow the band out to the parking lot…

Besieged

Alrighty, let’s get to this, shall we?

Imagine a world split definitively between those with differing physical attributes. Daniells’ world is ruled by ‘True-Men’, perfectly-formed and pure of blood, they believe themselves better than those unlike them. On the other side is the T’En, white-haired, blue-eyed, six-fingered people with mind-bending abilities that strike fear (and superstition) into the hearts of True-Men everywhere. Caught somewhat between are the Malajune (Wyrds), copper-haired, purple-eyed, six fingered men and women born into the service of the T’En – honoured they believe themselves to be, this indoctrination is hard-wired into them through history.

But the above is just the main structure, the loom if you will, of a rich tapestry of lives and loves, culture and magic that hold this world together. Daniells weaves her world with care and precision, but one tug at those threads and it all unravels, as we will come to see.

At times the precision of Daniells’ world-building worked against the forwarding of the story, especially within the first one-hundred and fifty or so pages. I understand the need for this world-building at the beginning of a trilogy, but there was a lot of information I felt could have been drip-fed through the story, not spelled out so completely with those early chapters.

It’s all about balance, and that Daniells’ storylines for the characters were so compelling, it was sometimes frustrating to feel bogged down in some of her descriptions when I wanted to follow the characters through their stories.

Besieged is told from several points of view, and works well to give us a taste of the different people that make up this world. While Imoshen takes somewhat centre stage for the trilogy, it’s the character of Sorne, the disavowed son of the mad king, Charald, to whom we are first introduced as a babe – I’m talking straight from the womb and (almost) directly to his father’s blade.

It’s with Sorne we spend the beginning of the book; saved (and raised) by former High Priest Oskane – for purely selfish reasons, mind – he is an experiment in the abilities of the Malanjune to find a way to defeat them. Tortured and indoctrinated into subservience, Sorne’s is a pitiful, yet strangely happy childhood, until he becomes aware of who he really is. Things really go from bad to worse when he delves into the higher planes where monsters dwell, and becomes an even greater pawn in Oskane’s plans for revenge.

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Running concurrently with Sorne’s story is that of Imoshen. The T’En’s are also a divided race – the Sisterhood and Brotherhoods (yes, men and women split with power-plays happening all the time). History has the Sisterhoods raising all children, with the boys moving to a Brotherhood when they come of age. It’s an interesting dynamic Daniells plays out here – each Brother and Sisterhood has its own standing, but each also vies for greater standing and power with the T’En. Each T’En also has their own gift, which can range from being a Warrior, Healer, and taster of truth to communing with animals (which is so low on the scale, it’s considered tainted).

Those within the Brotherhood usually have children with Malanjune, and Imoshen was not handed over to the Sisterhood as per law but raised by men. Though loved by her father, she too, is a pawn in bringing prestige to the Brotherhood but the pact was broken and… well, all hell breaks loose when Imoshen arrives at the Sisterhood after escaping a murder-plot.

Besieged is the set-up book for Daniells’ created world, characters and the story arcs of said characters. It’s a bloody, in-your-face world that doesn’t shy from the harsh reality of a world that is bound by rules and laws that at times seem unfair, but so far have worked to keep the peace. Of course you know that the peace is going to be broken, that there are those within the book who will set out alone to make their own destinies, even when they are tied so tightly to the people they’re meant to be guiding and protecting.

It’s no secret that the Mad King Charald wants the city the T’En occupy – beautiful and bountiful that it is. He’s determined, ruthless and uses the magic and history of the gods to further his cause while taking wife after wife in an attempt to sire the perfect True-Man son.

There are parts of the book I’d like to mention here, but they’re also parts as a reader you should discover yourself. Daniells has woven an intricate world and characters that are wholly likeable and unlikeable, but there’s an honesty to this world that I really enjoyed.

While it sits squarely within the fantasy genre, there’s a darkness and brutality to it that won’t appeal to all fans of fantasy. For me, though, I liked that unashamed storytelling. Lives aren’t all pristine and happy unicorns, that if you look hard enough, you’ll see the cracks in those veneers and the dirt that hides beneath.

As I said earlier, there were times where I felt the story suffered a little under the weight of the world-building, but that’s a personal preference. Daniells’ world is extremely well constructed, the magic systems and culture, though unique to each race, they’re cleverly entwined and deftly delivered. There’s political and religious power-plays, revenge, betrayal, love and horror all finding their place here — a little something for everyone.

It’s difficult to express within a thousand-or-so words how good this book is (without it turning into a dissertation), but I’d highly, highly recommend this series. Daniells said she wanted to write a trilogy that had the reader wanting more, and she definitely delivered with Besieged. I finished the book (which is 672 pages) in about five days because I wanted to spend more time with the characters in this beautifully fucked-up world.

On a Goodreads scale, I give this 3.5 stars

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