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The River Kings' Road
Liane Merciel
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, unabridged
Blackstone Audio, 11 hours

The River Kings' Road
Liane Merciel
As a so-called "Army brat," Liane grew up in Germany, South Korea, and several different parts of the United States. She now lives in Philadelphia, where she practices law. She is an alumnus of Yale University and the College of William & Mary Law School. She is of Korean and European heritage.

Liane Merciel Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The River Kings' Road

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sarah Trowbridge

A knight-for-hire whose employer/lord is ambushed in a chapel during a diplomatic expedition in the hostile kingdom next door. The infant heir is the only other survivor of the ambush. Add in an unwed, potato-faced baker's daughter with her baby on her back. When these characters converge, so begins a tale of political intrigue, high adventure, blood feud and diabolical enchantment in a land of ancient enmities and shifting alliances.

When mercenary Brys Tarnell flees the massacre with the surviving baby Wistan, he bears witness to the utter destruction of the village of Willowfield and all living things within its boundaries, with the unmistakable whiff of bloodmagic in the air. Who has made this dangerous alliance with a notorious Thornlady, bringing her twisted sorcery down onto the tiny village on the border of the warring kingdoms of Langmyr and Oakharn? Was it just to kill Sir Galefrid, eldest son of a powerful Oakharne lord -- or is there more at stake? Out on the road, as Brys ponders these questions, he meets up with Odosse, daughter of a Willowfield baker. Away from the village on a day-long errand and toting her infant son Aubry, Odosse hears with horror and grief the story Brys tells of the obliteration of her family and the entire town. Headed back to Oakharn to deliver his precious living cargo, Brys recognizes that Odosse has two things he desperately needs to keep Wistan alive on the journey: mothering skills and mother's milk. In return, he offers homely Odosse his protection and safe passage to a new town and a new life.

Meanwhile, another pair of sojourners is also on the road in Langmyr. Sir Kelland -- more commonly known as "the Burnt Knight" for the dark complexion that demonstrates his ancestry from the land of Nebaioth, far to the south -- is one of the Blessed: a Sun Knight consecrated to the deity Celestia, sworn to protect the weak and mete out justice throughout the land. Riding with Kelland is Bitharn, the young woman who grew up with him as a fellow orphan in the Dome of the Sun, and who has vowed to remain his steadfast companion, despite the fact that she neither received the Call to become one of the Blessed herself, nor can she assert her more-than-sisterly love for Kelland without violating his own mandatory vow of chastity. Bitharn is a highly skilled archer in her own right, and the two are headed to Thistlestone, stronghold of Lord Inguilar, for the Swordsday celebrations and competitions.

The other major player in this drama is Leferic, Lord Ossaric of Bulls' March's scholarly and embittered younger son and the younger brother of the slain Sir Galefrid. Bulls' March is an important border province of Oakharn, and with Galefrid dead and Ossaric taken ill from mourning, the ruling of the realm is left to Leferic. While Leferic believes that he is taking an educated man's long view of what's best for the future of two kingdoms, his measures are drastic and violent, and ultimately take him -- and the rest of the characters -- places he could not foresee and may come to regret.

Stefan Rudnicki's sonorous voice brings the proper gravity to the tale that unfolds, starting with the bloodshed of the opening pages, winding through the twists and turns of the story, and leading the listener to acceptance of the fates and futures of all concerned.

Fans of high fantasy can look forward to more drama and intrigue in coming sequels, further tales of Langmyr and Oakharn and the realms that surround them. Liane Merciel's characters possess an admirable depth and dimensionality, and the events of this first book, set a richly detailed stage on which they can play out the inevitable consequences.

Copyright © 2011 Sarah Trowbridge

Sarah Trowbridge reads (and listens) compulsively, chronically, and eclectically. She is a public librarian in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.

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