Mary Gentle first came to prominence with the lovingly conceived and beautifully written SF novel Golden Witchbreed. Its sequel, Ancient Light, then took the world and premise built into the first novel and deconstructed it thoroughly. Gentle's latest plays some of the same tricks with reader expectations.
In a typical fantasy milieu, the mud and blood of a military camp in 15th-century Europe, a scarred and beautiful 8-year-old girl kills her two adult rapists. She is Ash. In unflinching prose, Gentle describes the child's treatment in a men's camp, then the teenager's hard lessons in the art and craft of war, and finally the young woman's rise to command a mercenary army. Ash, it seems, is not only strong and fast but has the advantage of hearing a voice that instructs her on troop deployment. To the well-versed SF reader, the voice begins to sound suspiciously like a tactical computer.
Just as the reader gets ready to reassign the book to time travel SF, Gentle inserts--in what are purported to be excerpts from a 21st-century scholar's e-mail conversation with his publisher--hints that perhaps the novel belongs in the alternate history category. By now Ash and her army are embroiled in war and politics up to their fluted breastplates (armor, like all the historical detail, is minutely and accurately described), and if swords and poleaxes were not enough, she now faces golems and the Carthaginian army. Amazingly, Gentle makes this impossible mix believable, and by the end of the novel it is apparent that this is the beginning of a most interesting series. --Luc Duplessis
" One of the best fantasies I've read in the past 15 years, bar none." -- -- S.M. Stirling, author of Against the Tide of Years
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" One of the best fantasies I've read in the past 15 years, bar none." -- S.M. Stirling, author of Against the Tide of Years