The Princess and the Paladin, by Hiram Webb
World-building: * * * * *
Writing: * * * *
Story: * * *
Characters: * * *
(I was provided with a free copy of this book for the purpose of giving an honest review.)
The Princess and the Paladin takes readers on a journey through the great Empire of NaRasch at a time of impending revolution. Gail, the youngest of the old Emperor's multitude of children, is given an unexpected gift: a kingdom of her very own. When the old Emperor's oldest son takes the throne, Gail is suspected of treason and imprisoned. She's rescued from her imprisonment by a warrior in the thrall of a mysterious sword - the Paladin, which begins her adventure through the lands of the NaResch Empire.
Fantasy novels can often be loosely grouped into character-based, plot-based, and world-based novels. The Princess and the Paladin reads very much like a world-based novel, in which the main focus is on the history, geography, and political tensions in the Empire. As Gail is handed off from one group of people to another, we get an extensive tour of the land and learn a lot about its history, including the tensions that are now leading these various groups to join together in rebellion against the Empire. There's some spectacular scenery and exciting action along the way on Gail's dangerous journey. I particularly enjoyed where she is taken white-water rafting (or canoeing) along a river through the mountains. There's also dragons and some other cool creatures.
The weak point of the story is Gail herself. We follow her on her adventures, and she's the central character of the story, but we know very little about her personality or what she's thinking or feeling or, especially, what she wants. She also doesn't really make any of her own decisions; she's just taken from one place to another by the other characters. This lack of ability to determine her own fate is an issue that comes up a few times - she objects from time to time over not being given any choice in what she does or where she goes. The others tell her that she does have a choice, but the choices she's given are really no choices at all, and she just goes along with what everyone else tells her would be best for her to do. According to the author's notes, The Princess and the Paladin is the first part of a longer work, The Fall of NaResch, so I assume that later on, Gail moves into a position of having more control over her life and her choices. She does start to come more into her own as she begins to master the magical sword Maroward, and has a lot of potential to become a powerful character later on.
The Paladin storyline and the rebellion storyline don't seem to be connected to each other, but I assume they tie in together more later on in The Fall of NaResch.
Besides Gail, there are a number of other characters in the book who are brought to life quite vividly. I especially liked the three young Pirates (who are the ones who take Gail on her white-water canoeing adventure). The writing is clear, with well-done descriptions that bring this vast, magical land to life. There's a lot to like about this book, and it will be interesting to see how the threads of the story laid out here develop later on.
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