Pros: Wonderful world; entrancing exploration of romance/friendship/attraction within the context of war and racism; good characters
Cons: Somewhat predictable; the book is slower than implied by the back cover text
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Varian is the leader of the Na’Chi—the half-bloods nobody believed existed—who have come seeking sanctuary among humans. The Na’Chi came to the Light Blade council because in the world of their demonic Na’Reish parents, their existence alone is a death sentence. However, while the leader of the Light Blades and the Lady’s Temple Elect are willing to offer the half-breeds an alliance, many others aren’t so sure. The Na’Chi need a certain amount of blood to survive. They also possess physical attributes that make them quite dangerous to the average human, which angers and frightens many of those around them. It doesn’t help that there are years of racial hatred to contend with.
Varian and Kymora, the blind Temple Elect, spend a lot of time together. Everyone else can see what Varian wants to deny—that there’s no stopping the feelings developing between them. He’s afraid that if he allows himself to care for Kymora, she’ll become an even greater target for those fomenting discontent against his kind’s presence in the city. It doesn’t help that among the Na’Reish, anyone with such a physical imperfection as blindness would have been killed for the defect, and the Na’Chi on the whole have picked up a few Na’Reish prejudices. It isn’t only the humans who aren’t entirely unified.
Of course, Varian won’t have time to handle everything carefully and slowly. There are those determined to drive the Na’Chi away, or preferably, kill them all—even the small children. And they don’t care if their own Temple Elect stands in the way.
I love the world that Kylie Griffin has created in Vengeance Born and Alliance Forged (A Novel of the Light Blade). The Na’Chi are fascinating to watch as they try to hold onto what they are yet learn to live within human society. I very much hope to see another book in which we get to see more of the Na’Reish, whom we haven’t seen much of since the earlier parts of the first book.
The story provides a wonderful look at an interracial relationship during a time of war, along with all the pain and joy that entails. The fantasy and human/non-human context allows Griffin to explore the issue without having to worry about all the pitfalls of getting real-world details just right, and to use the exaggerated differences between the races to add to the tensions and issues involved. It also provides her with interesting historical and religious material that greatly affects the history between the two races, and will undoubtedly affect how events continue to unfold.
I love Varian and Kymora as characters. While we do get to see Annika and Kalan from Vengeance Born, they definitely aren’t the focus. We also get to see more of Kalan’s second, who is turning out to be an intriguing character (I’m rather hoping he might turn out to be one of the main characters of book three, assuming there’s a book three). Varian has a darkness to him without falling into the romance “haunted/angry man” stereotypes, and Kymora has a lovely sweetness to her without falling into the spunky or naive stereotypes. Their personalities—and the ways in which they interact—are original and lovely. Varian is a bit on the almost-too-stubborn side, but I’ve seen much worse and didn’t get too frustrated with him! I appreciate also that the Na’Chi aren’t presented as perfect people; they too have their own flaws and biases.
I will say that the back of the book makes it sound as though there’s more action and adventure to the plot than there is. I enjoyed the slower, more emotion-driven pace of the novel, but it’s good to have the right expectations when going in. Also, since the action parts of the plot aren’t the main focus, they’re a tad on the predictable side. Again, however, if you’re more in it for the cultural, emotional, and romance aspects, that isn’t a real issue.
I highly recommend this series to fans of fantasy and romance both, and I look forward to more from Kylie Griffin!