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Tracato (Trial of Blood & Steel, Book III)
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 25, 2010
Tracato is the third installment in Joel Shepherd's excellent A TRIAL OF BLOOD AND STEEL fantasy quartet, and not only is it the best book in the series so far, it's also one of the best new fantasy novels I've read all year.

The continent of Rhodia, shared by a fractured human civilization and the non-human serrin, finally begins to inch towards full-scale war. The northern Verenthane countries, with their conflicted and somewhat reluctant goeren-yai allies, are marching south to reclaim the Saalshen Bacosh. These provinces, occupied by the serrin during the last major conflict with humanity, have been thriving thanks to the rational guidance of the serrin and the Nasi-Keth, but the zealous Verenthanes have long wanted to reclaim them, and even some humans there long to return to feudal times...

In this politically and religiously complex situation we find our equally complex heroine Sasha, the headstrong former Lenay princess whose loyalties and beliefs have been stretched to the point of breaking in the first two novels of the series. In Sasha, she learned that not all goeren-yai are perfect, and in Petrodor it became clear that even the serrin aren't as united and angelic as they initially seemed. Now, with her Lenay countrymen marching to wage war on the serrin, her ongoing crisis of identity builds to a truly agonizing climax.

The series' large and complex cast of side characters returns in Tracato. While most of them don't approach Sasha's complexity, many also experience conflicted loyalties and are forced into difficult decisions. Most notably there's Sofy, Sasha's younger sister, who is marching with the Lenay army to marry one of the most powerful Verenthanes and who becomes a character you can genuinely cheer for in this novel. Somehow always in Sofy's periphery are Jaryd, the former noble and now goeren-yai soldier, and Yasmyn, her fierce handmaiden. Meanwhile in Tracato, other returning characters are Sasha's second sister Alythia, her mentor Kessligh, and the two almost diametrically opposed serrin: her lover Errollyn and the pragmatic, uncompromising Talmad leader Rhillian.

If you haven't read the first two novels in A TRIAL OF BLOOD AND STEEL, the above paragraphs probably make this series sound impossibly complex (if you have, they will hopefully help refresh your memory). However, Joel Shepherd has taken his time to carefully and organically build up this highly complex political and religious setting to the point where now, finally, the tension is dialed up to the maximum: the history of the various countries and religions is known, the characters are in place, and everything is inexorably converging. The result is a textbook example of how to structure a fantasy series: this novel has a few scenes of such unbearable intensity that, at one point, I was gripping the book so hard I accidentally almost ripped it in two.

With the third book in a series of such complexity, it becomes hard to include many plot details without also including spoilers, so this is intentionally vague: you'll find romance, conflict and betrayal ratcheted up to entirely new levels. Characters' morality and loyalty comes in so many shades of grey that black and white may seem a faint memory by the time you're done. There are some edge-of-your-seat scenes describing warfare that are, in a word, simply awesome - especially those including the serrin light cavalry. There are a few scenes that are extremely dark, but also some that may have you cheering out loud for the characters. In a nutshell, it's hard to imagine that readers who have been following the story so far in Sasha and Petrodor will be anything less than satisfied with Tracato - not to say chomping at the bit to get the fourth and final book in the series, Haven (tentative publication date: April 2011). Sure, there are still a few small glitches (mainly some run-on sentences and the occasional lecture-dialogue) but those are easy to forgive in such a gripping novel.

Joel Shepherd, only in his mid thirties, has already written six excellent books: the three CASSANDRA KRESNOV science fiction novels, and now the first three installments in A TRIAL OF BLOOD AND STEEL. Thank goodness the intrepid folks at Pyr brought this Australian author's work to the US, because if he keeps working at the same high level of quality, he will be a writer to watch for a long time to come. For now, Tracato is simply one of the best fantasy novels of the year. Highly recommended.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2011
The war that I've been expecting since the first book, Lenayin's invasion of the Saalshen Bachosh, has finally started! I feel like it certainly took long enough. On that note, one thing I noticed is that this book, unlike the previous two in the series, jumps right into the action. There is very little time spent on new character development, which seems fair. We already know all the main characters pretty well at this point. The pace of the first two books in the Trial of Blood and Steel was pretty forumlatic. The first half or so of the book was spent learning about the characters and building up to some sort of battle scenes that only pertained to the book, not the series.

I felt Tracato completely skipped the introductions and started instead at the first set of book-specific battle scenes, in this case being the Tracato civil war. Then it jumped to the series-wide conflict, the Toravan/Lenayin invasion of Enora. I was personally pleased to see this focus on action and moving forward the overall plot of the series, and I preferred the way character development was strewn throughout the book. It felt much more realistic, and I didn't feel like I had to fulfill some sort of characterization quota (which is saying something, because I love Sasha). It just... felt a little better paced to me. I look forward to the finale! (it is the finale, right?)
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on May 9, 2013
Joel Shepherd aims high in A Trial of Blood and Steel, and "Tracato" (Pyr, $16, 354 pages) is a grim third installment in a fantasy quartet that may confound the expectations of the genre. After all, "Tracato" offers little in the way of redemption or triumph as it chronicled the story of a pre-industrial world where almost-human serrin and human beings try to co-exist.

Along the way, the humans battle over religion, power, money and sex, but when they do get together, they manage to build a serious anti-serrin prejudice that appears headed for a major war. At the center of it all is Sashandra, a princess of Lenay who has renounced her royalty to become a member of the Nasi-Keth, a warrior cult. Shepherd is partial to women who can battle men on equal terms, but he is also realist enough to make Sasha a believable action heroine. When she can use her quickness and swordplay tricks, she is almost unbeatable; but when it comes to raw strength and pure speed, she cannot overcome the physical disadvantage of being a smaller human woman.

Sasha begins the book in the city of its title, which is on the verge of a possible rebellion, while her father, brothers and sister are in a large army that plans to conquer Tracato. All of this makes sense given the first two books ("Sasha" and "Petrodor," which need to be read first), and Shepherd's complex, realistic look at politics, war, religion and prejudice drives the narrative into unexpected areas. One of them is Sasha's burgeoning awareness that being a warrior means being a killer, and that killing, even when justified, may not lead to happiness.

There's certainly none of the latter in "Tracato," but hopefully Shepherd will find a way to conclude the series on some kind of an upbeat note. It would be depressing to go through four violent, complicated books only to have it all devolve into disaster at the end.
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on April 30, 2012
Had a hard time getting into the book because the author is using too many perspective characters. Chapter one is Sasha in Tracato, then it switches over to Sofi/Jared (and occassional Prince Damon) in the Lenay army, and then it switches to Rhillian marauding in the countryside in a nearby kingdom (Rhodia) to settle local political dissent (with her blade) in preparation for the oncoming army. Yeah. No two consecutive chapters follow the same character, and I was so bored with Sofi, I skipped her.

Conflict picks up later in the book with Sasha (nashi-keth) vs Rhillian (serrin) again, brought on by Alytha (who sided with nobles in Tracato). Shepard has many long asides about feudalism and Serrin philosophy, and I didn't enjoy them. He didn't succeed in making the political philosophy interesting in this book; he'd already done it better in Petrador. Much of the character arguments were rehashing book two. I mean "Petrador" was excellently done political musings... Tracato more like a High School assignment on the uselessness of Feudalism.

Near the ending third, darker action scenes which advance the actual series plot start, and the book salvaged itself. (Earlier action scenes were restricted to sparring and Serrin units curbstomping unskilled peasantry.) Only three stars because the introduction was slow and I skimmed half the digressions.
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on June 1, 2014
Tracato is the grim continuation of this story. I appreciated the addition of depth to Sasha's character, her idealism tempered with the reality of other's greed and power. I don't know what tragic conclusion we're running headlong into, but I want to see where the characters go.
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on March 24, 2013
I've loved this series. Good action and interesting characters keep coming. It's hard to find a place to stop reading.
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on January 21, 2013
still would recommend this book since it is part of the whole story. the language is getting a bit bad, but still a good red
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on January 14, 2013
Not quite as good as the first 2, but still worth continuing. Characters, especially the antagonists, developed very well. Resolution not quite as good.
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on January 3, 2013
Good action, thoughtful discussions, great battle scenes, but sometimes difficult to keep track of characters, and locations. Best read in one sitting as it's difficult to catch up if you set it down for long.
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on September 16, 2012
This series contains two of my favorite things...fantasy and romance! Also, it is great to see such a strong heroine. This book shows Sasha at her best. She breaks away from Kessligh, reconciles with her family and comes into her own as a strong military leader. I enjoyed every page! I just downloaded book four and can't wait to read it!
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