The Sacred Band, by Janet E. Morris and Chris Morris
* * * * * (5 stars)
(I was gifted with a copy of this book by the author for the purpose of giving an honest review.)
I really didn't know what to expect with The Sacred Band when the author requested a read-and-review. I was not familiar with the Thieves World shared fantasy world and the book looks like it's based on Greek history and mythology, perhaps even set in ancient Greece, which isn't really my thing, but it looked intriguing so I decided to give it a go, and I'm glad I did.
The Sacred Band is an exciting and deeply emotional epic fantasy about a band of warriors, dedicated to each other as brothers, who find themselves in a battle to restore their integrity and right some old imbalances in their world. It touches on ancient Greece, when the Sacred Band of Stepsons comes to our world to save a group of otherwise-doomed Theban warriors (in an incident based on a historical battle). Then the action returns to Thieves World, a world where gods and demigods, wizards and mortals interact in a struggle for control. A member of the Sacred Band of Stepsons then commits a terrible crime, stirring up other forces and bringing old tensions and imbalances to a head in a great, epic, magical battle.
The writing is gorgeous, rich, colorful, and emotional. It slips between present and past tense, which at first I found confusing. But when I got used to it, the passages in present tense gave a very immediate and impressionistic feeling to the story.
This book is a later stand-alone novel that follows an earlier trilogy (beginning with Beyond Sanctuary). The author recommended that I start with The Sacred Band, and I was able to pick up on the characters, setting, and backstory pretty well, but I might have had an easier time understanding who the characters are, what they want and what drives them, and what was at stake for them, if I had started with the earlier trilogy. The Beyond trilogy is now on my TBR list, and I'm looking forward to catching up with the characters and events before The Sacred Band.
It took me a while to really get a grasp on the characters, again because I was coming into their story later on, but eventually each one stood out to me as an individual, well-drawn character. I particularly liked Niko (although a brief mention of his activities in a brothel left me somewhat less sympathetic and admiring of him than maybe the reader is intended to be), and Kouras, one of the youngest Stepsons. There are a number of admirable female characters as well, though I was a little disappointed that they are all goddesses or other supernatural beings. There is no major female character who is an ordinary mortal. Thieves World appears to be very much a man's world, with ordinary women being relegated to the roles of dancing girls, servants, and prostitutes.
For a 5-star review, this review seems to have a lot of reservations, but in the end, despite the difficulties I had with the book, I couldn't put it down. It's a long book and it took me a while because I was reading it during a particularly busy period, but every chance I got, I picked it up just to read a little more to find out how the characters were doing and what happened next. I was deeply emotionally touched by the honor and loyalty that the members of the Sacred Band feel for each other, and intrigued enough by the characters, events, and world that I'm looking forward to reading the trilogy that comes before.
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