Eolyn, Karin Gastreich's debut novel, is an excellent example of the other breed of Epic Fantasy epitomized by the works of Guy Gavriel Kay, which is to say, not the traditional "unlikely but fated and/or prophesied hero must face the dreaded return of dark lord." Instead, Gastreich's Eolyn focuses on the emotional, political, and physical conflicts between powerful and three-dimensional characters. You don't have any villains who do villainy because, well, that's just what villains do. Each character has compelling reasonable motivations. The action sequences are executed wonderfully and are unpredictable in that the character who "normally" triumphs doesn't always triumph.
Gastreich launches her characters on unavoidable collision courses and with her tendency to avoid stereotypes-- or use them to her advantage to create a surprising turn of events--the climatic sequence is thrilling because, for once, you really don't know how it will end.
The beginning of Eolyn, a clearly intentional nod to the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, may give some readers pause as it feels young for an adult fantasy, but sticking with the story is amply rewarded and Gastreich does something with Eolyn in 328 pages that many fantasy authors fail to do with twice that page count: tell a complete and satisfying tale as the first novel of a trilogy. Readers of the aforementioned Guy Gavriel Kay and Robin Hobb will definitely enjoy this novel.
(This review is of an Advanced Review Copy)