I love Fletcher's Celaeno series, despite the world-building issues and sometimes bad pacing. Unfortunately, although I devoured this book just as quickly as I did the others and liked it well enough, I didn't think it was one of Fletcher's better works.
This book takes place seven years after The Walls of Westernfort. The heretics' ideas still haven't been accepted by the general population, so they continue to live in Westernfort and Ginasberg and keep an eye out for the Guards. Tanya Coppelli, one of Chip's daughters, is now a corporal in the Westernfort Rangers. Everyone tells her she deserves the position, but she can't help but wonder if nepotism was involved. It's one of the reasons why she reacts so badly when Riki, a known troublemaker, is assigned to her patrol.
Because she was angry at her mother, Riki acted out a lot when she was younger. She's still a bit of a troublemaker, but she hasn't done anything really bad for several years. Not that anybody seems to realize this. All anyone remembers is the trouble Riki used to cause, so she gets into even worse trouble if she steps out of line even a little. Riki's most recent incident results in both a demotion and a transfer to the Rangers at Westernfort. She's supposed to start with a clean slate, except her superiors there judge her the same way everyone back at Ginasberg did. This makes Riki an ideal scapegoat when Tanya is betrayed and captured by the Guards.
I could believe that people in Ginasberg couldn't see past the Riki of a few years ago, especially since she had a bit of a chip on her shoulder. However, the Rangers' reaction to her in Westernfort seemed way out of line. Chip's reaction, in particular, struck me as being out of character. If I remember correctly, in Rangers at Roadsend, it looked a lot like Katryn was a troublemaker. However, Chip kept her head, focused on the facts, and eventually learned the truth. With Riki, she instantly believed everything she was told about her and then almost beat her to death when Tanya went missing. This wasn't the Chip I remembered. Tanya's reaction was somewhat more believable, since she was younger and new to her rank, and Riki kept pushing her buttons. Still, I had a hard time believing she'd achieved her rank so young on the basis of her own merits, considering how quickly she jumped to conclusions about Riki.
The story's pacing was pretty good, which is something I can't say about several of the other Celaeno books. I enjoyed Riki's efforts to escape Loke and Westernfort, once she realized that Loke was probably setting her up again, but Isabel's plan to free Tanya went way too smoothly. Yes, Isabel was crafty, well-connected, and well-informed, but her plan was incredibly complicated. The more complicated a plan, the more likely it is that something will go wrong, and yet every last bit of it went perfectly. Riki and Tanya easily played the parts they needed to play, and every single person reacted just as Isabel predicted they would.
All the Celaeno books have romance in them, and the romance in this one began too soon, while Tanya was still imprisoned. Tanya and Riki kept noticing how quickly their hearts beat when they were around each other, and I rolled my eyes. Tanya was in trouble, Riki was her savior, and it wasn't hard to imagine that Tanya's reaction to Riki was at least partly inspired by her situation. I enjoyed their budding relationship more after Tanya was freed – Fletcher is good at writing awkward, cute romance – but the way things began kind of ruined the rest for me. I finished the book feeling doubtful that their relationship would last long.
The ending came so suddenly that I tapped my screen twice before I realized that there weren't any more pages and my Nook wasn't just acting up. It was a little jarring, since the end came during the first quiet moment Riki and Tanya had to finally discuss their future together. I couldn't help but think, “Really? That's all?”
As seems to be usual with Bold Strokes Books e-books, there were occasional formatting issues. They weren't really that bad, but, with as much as BSB charges for their e-books, I personally think there shouldn't be any. Also, once again I found myself wishing they'd italicize characters' thoughts. Reading sentences in the third person only to suddenly come across something in the first person, with no warning, tended to throw me out of the story a bit. As far as Fletcher's writing went, this was the first time I noticed, and was irked by, her avoidance of contractions. She used them in dialogue but rarely (never?) anywhere else. I did a quick skim of The Walls of Westernfort and realized this wasn't a new thing, just something I'd somehow never noticed before. It made Riki, especially, seem even younger and more immature than she was.
I still love the Celaeno series and am sad that I only have one more book left to read, but I much preferred Rangers at Roadsend and The Walls of Westernfort to this book.
I know I've read fantasy starring "troublemaker" characters who are unfairly blamed for things they didn't do, but I can't for the life of me remember any of them right now.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. The Heralds of Valdemar series also has a few gay and lesbian characters in it - if you'd like to try a book in which the main character is gay, start with Magic's Pawn.