Sixteen years after the events of The Temple at Landfall, Westernfort is still around and doing well and the heretics are still acquiring more members. The Sisterhood is determined to destroy this group that threatens them and their control. Since a more direct attack didn't work, they've decided to infiltrate Westernfort with Guards disguised as a family of heretics who'd like to settle there. The Guards will then assassinate Lynn, Kim, and Gina, on the assumption that if the "head" of the resistance is destroyed, the "body" will follow.
Natasha is selected to be one of the assassins, due to her loyalty to the Sisterhood and the physical similarities between her and Jess, the heretic she'll be replacing. At first, Natasha views the heretics as evil and truly believes that the assassinations must happen is order to prevent the heretics from corrupting others. Then she actually meets and gets to know a few heretics, and her black-and-white picture of the world becomes muddled. When the assassinations are delayed due to new information, Natasha finds herself growing closer to several heretics and more unsure of herself and the orders the Sisterhood gave her. Can she really kill Lynn, who doesn't seem at all evil and who can function as an Imprinter despite no longer being a virgin, something the Sisterhood preached was not possible? Can she bring herself to be a part of the assassinations, even though it will cause Dani, a heretic with whom she has begun to fall in love, to hate her?
Another Celaeno book! Although it has some basic world-building problems, I love this series anyway and am glad there are still a couple books in it that I haven't read. I started reading this shortly after finishing The Temple at Landfall. Although The Walls of Westernfort references many events that occurred in that book, it takes place 16 years later.
I enjoyed getting to see how several characters from The Temple at Landfall were doing. Chip, Kim, and Lynn all made appearances, as did several of their children, and a minor character reappeared as a more prominent one. Westernfort was a more established settlement, although there were still problems on the horizon that needed to be worked out, namely what would happen once Lynn, their only Imprinter, died.
I also appreciated that there were no long, infodumpy passages detailing how the world worked, at least not that I could remember. The animosity between the Guards and Rangers came up, as did cloning, imprinting, and Celaeno being a spaceship, but it was worked into the story more smoothly than in the other Celaeno books I'd read.
The biggest problem I had with this book, at least initially, was Natasha. She was a very different kind of Celaeno protagonist, which could have been a good thing, except she had a tendency to annoy me. She was very naive, to the point of seeming stupid, and overly pious. This let up a bit after she met a few Westernfort residents and began to realize that much of what she'd been told wasn't necessarily true, but it never quite went away.
If Natasha hadn't rubbed me the wrong way so much, I think this would have been my top favorite Celaeno book so far. The pacing and overall story were excellent. I loved watching the Westernfort residents try to puzzle out the secrets that Natasha/Jess and her “family” were hiding – they could sense that the women were hiding something, but they assumed that their big secret was that they were horse thieves planning on stealing from Westernfort. I loved the level of suspense as the Guards' secrets slowly unraveled, and I loved that Natasha had very good reasons for feeling torn over what she should do. Her religious beliefs were part of it, but so were her familial feelings towards the two Guards who were with her. She'd never had a loving mother, and she had a tendency to latch onto anyone who gave her the kind of motherly love she'd craved her whole life.
The romance was a bit more front-and-center in this book than in the other Celaeno books I'd read. Unfortunately, it made me a little...uncomfortable. As is usual in Fletcher's books, Dani and Natasha had many cute moments together, and I would have been completely on board with their relationship if I hadn't been so aware that Natasha was lying to Dani right from the start. Thankfully, she was uncomfortable with the situation too, and tried not to act on her feelings for Dani or to encourage Dani's feelings for her. Dani had lots of reasons to hate the real Natasha: she had a painful history with Guards, she had personal experience with practices that ran counter to the religious teachings that were so dear to Natasha, and she cared for the people Natasha had been sent to kill. Shelly, a sweet but not terribly bright Westernfort resident with a huge crush on Dani, further complicated things.
I liked that Natasha's secrets were revealed with plenty of time for everyone, including herself, to process what she'd been about to do and why she'd changed her mind. I also liked that she had time to win back people's trust (although the heretics embraced her more quickly than I would have expected, with the result that they seemed more like a joke than anything). What I did not like was that the book ended the moment Natasha and Dani resolved things between them. I like happy endings, but that ending was way too sudden.
All in all, I enjoyed The Walls of Westernfort, even though this protagonist definitely was not one of my favorites. I've still got one more Celaeno book in my e-book collection, plus one I haven't purchased yet. I'm looking forward to them both. I'd wish for even more Celaeno books, except it looks like Fletcher may no longer be writing new works – the most recent date I can find on her site is 2010, which makes me all kinds of sad.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Arrows of the Queen (book) by Mercedes Lackey - Those who'd like another fantasy book might want to try this or one of Lackey's other Heralds of Valdemar books. Religion comes up from time to time in Lackey's Valdemar books, although I can't, at the moment, think of any protagonists for whom religion is as important as it is for Natasha. Those who'd like a book starring a gay character (I don't think Lackey has one starring a lesbian character, although it's been a while since I last read any of the books) might want to start with Magic's Pawn instead - just a warning, those particular books get very angsty at times.
- First Test (book) by Tamora Pierce - This is aimed at a younger audience than Fletcher's book, but those who'd like another fantasy book starring strong female main characters may still want to try it or another one of Pierce's books. First Test is one of my personal favorites, but lots of people love her books about Alanna (start with Alanna: The First Adventure). I have written about the audio book version of First Test.
- Archangel (book) by Sharon Shinn - The first of Shinn's Samaria books. This is a series that, from what I can remember, reads like fantasy, up until maybe book 3, which is I think the point at which I stopped reading. Those who'd like something else that mixes sci-fi, fantasy, semi-religious aspects, and romance may want to give this a shot.
- Dragonflight (book) by Anne McCaffrey - Those who'd like another "sci-fi book that feels like fantasy" might want to try this or one of McCaffrey's other Dragonriders of Pern books. Like Fletcher's books, McCaffrey's also often have a bit of romance in them.
- Ooku: The Inner Chambers (manga) by Fumi Yoshinaga - In this alternate history, a strange disease kills off most of the men in feudal Japan. I haven't read much of this one yet, but it seems fascinating.
- The Twelve Kingdoms book series (first book is Sea of Shadow) by Fuyumi Ono; The Twelve Kingdoms (anime TV series) - If you'd like another fantasy story featuring a re-imagined society, you might want to try this. In the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, no one reproduces sexually - instead, children come from egg-fruit trees. If I remember correctly, not much is made of a person's gender - people in positions of power can be either male or female without anyone batting an eye. I have written about the anime and several of the books.