Review: Allegiance (River of Souls, #3)

 Allegiance by Beth Bernobich.

As this is the final volume in the ‘River Of Souls’ trilogy, spoilers for the first two books are unavoidable. With that warning: King Leos is dead (permanently, one hopes) and the jewels have been reunited. Valara Baussay is bound for Morennioù, Raul Kosenmark is off to serve the king and Ilse Zhalina is caught between oaths and allegiance. She and Raul are still doing all they can to prevent war and, again, the obstacles in their path are numerous.

Secrets, lies, assassins and spies will try to stop them. Though neither Ilse nor Raul believe themselves to be selfless, they overcome their personal ambitions and doubts in order to serve their people. This time they will be rewarded for their sacrifices, making the end of this chapter of the greater story worthwhile for the characters and the reader.

It’s the characters that separate the ‘River Of Souls’ novels from the other fantasy on the shelf. Well, that and the covers. The art by Scott Grimando is gorgeous. Back to the characters. Sexuality and gender are fluid concepts and society doesn’t question either. The women are strong without being unfeminine and the men are not written dispassionately. Pen and sword can be effectively wielded by either sex, without discrimination. What is, is, which is very refreshing.

This is not to say individual characters do not struggle with who they are. They do. Writer Beth Bernobich has created a world where the usual rules and prejudices do not apply, which means she doesn’t have to write out any objections to certain choices. She can concentrate on the story, which gives the narrative a seamless feel. It also allows her characters to make choices they might not be able to in our world. Love can win out, which allows the characters to forge strong alliances. The concept of reincarnation — the river of souls — flows through this, lending a deeper connection to these bonds and carrying hints or repercussions that will haunt for more than one lifetime.

The play of politics, intrigue and romance is compelling enough to entice readers. The addition of a truly unique setting makes this trilogy stand out.

In her acknowledgements, which appear at the beginning of the book, Bernobich mentions the care and feeding of trilogies, meaning Allegiance is the final installment in the ‘River Of Souls’ novels. The story begun in Passion Play and continued in Queen’s Hunt does find a conclusion, but the ‘River Of Souls’ is not a concept that can be easily encompassed in three novels. There is more story, if not with these players, then in their next lives, or perhaps their previous incarnations. In other words, I’d like to read on. I hope Beth Bernobich writes on.

Written for and originally posted at SFCrowsnest.

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