Theos is a Sacrati, an elite warrior of the Torian Empire. The Sacrati are the best of the best. Where a Torian warrior is known for his strength and stamina, a Sacrati is legend. The training is brutal, but the rewards are numerous: honour, a city full of women who want to bear his children and an army full of brothers and lovers. Torians aren’t picky about who they sleep with and will take comfort where they find it. For Theos, life is good. He has fathered forty-six children and has just been promoted to iyatis, the rough equivalent of sergeant. His first mission as iyatis will challenge all of his training and his world view.
Finnvid seeks to prevent the Torian invasion of his home, the kingdom of Elkat. When he is captured by Theos’s patrol, Finnvid is appalled by the Torian way of life. There is no concept of family or marriage. He sees the Torian Empire as a machine of war set to swallow every valley in its path. Yet, as a prisoner, he is not mistreated. He is in fact allowed the freedom of the men’s camp and encouraged to train, as are the rest of his men. The women are not kept as chattel, as he feared. They are the backbone of the Torian Empire.
While Theos and Finnvid complicate one another’s lives, there is little doubt about the attraction between them, which both find annoying. To love a man goes beyond everything Finnvid has ever been taught, even if he’s always felt that way. He cannot deny the fact the Torian concept of family appeals, however, or that the Torian way of life isn’t necessarily ‘do or die’. For Theos, Finnvid is the ultimate distraction. Worse, he has ‘ideas’ and an annoying knack of prodding Theos to think beyond his next conquest, in bed and on the battlefield. He seems to have the notion men can be something other than a warrior.
There is a compromise, but each man must be willing to put aside how they see themselves in order to reach for it. So, too, the struggle between the Torian Empire and the Elkat Kingdom. Neither battle will be bloodless.
Kate Sherwood has created a rich and interesting world with multiple layers of meaning. The mountains and valleys and the journeys between offer the perfect backdrop to the peaks and dips of her story, as do the two different approaches to civilisation. At first, the Torians appear rigidly divisive with the men in one camp and the women in the other. It’s easy to see the system through Finnvid’s eyes as unbalanced and unfair. Yet the more ‘usual’ social habits of the Elkat Kingdom are no less strict. There is no tolerance regarding same sex partnerships for instance, and when he examines the narrow course of his life, Finnvid realises he has had as few choices as Theos. Theos is obviously happier with his lot.
While I enjoyed Finnvid’s more intellectual scrutiny of the differences between these two cultures, I adored Theos’s less complicated life view. I’ve read Kate Sherwood before and she writes amazingly consistent characters. They rarely compromise themselves for the sake of the plot, meaning she wrings every ounce of potential out of both before her stories are done. Theos is no exception. Finnvid is the catalyst that encourages his growth and it’s fascinating to watch.
The dialogue between these two men had me laughing out loud on many occasions. I also loved the trips through the mountains with the focus on survival. No fantasy novel is complete without a road trip, in my humble opinion. The intrigue and politics were just complicated enough to extend the plot and make it interesting, meaning I didn’t have to scratch my head and wonder where that came from. The world-building is deft. I could picture every location down to the flooring, yet never felt overloaded with information. The conclusion of the novel is stirring and triumphant and worth every minute of the journey.
Kate Sherwood is a wonderful writer. I have enjoyed her contemporary stories and am thrilled to discover she writes fantasy just as well. While I’d love to see more stories in this setting, Sacrati is a neatly wrapped and satisfying package. I’m looking forward to seeing where her muse takes her next.
Written for SFCrowsnest.