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Urdaisunia Paperback – February 22, 2013
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About the Author
Beginning with the Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander and the Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. Leguin, Kyra Halland has always loved fantasy. She has also always loved a good love story. In 1990, as a new stay-at-home mom with a young baby, she finally decided to combine those two loves - like chocolate and peanut butter! - by writing the kinds of romantic fantasy novels she wanted to read. Complicated but honorable heroes; heroines who are strong, smart, and feminine; magic, romance, and adventure; and excursions into the dark corners of life and human nature mixed with a dash of offbeat humor - all of these make up Kyra Halland's worlds. She is excited to share those worlds with readers, who she hopes will enjoy her stories and characters as much as she does. Kyra Halland lives in southern Arizona. She has a very patient husband, two less-patient cats, and two young adult sons. Besides writing, she enjoys scrapbooking and anime, and she wants to be a crazy cat lady when she grows up.
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The land of Urdaisunia has been ruled by the Sazar for seventy years. Once a land favored by the gods above all other lands, the Urdias have been defeated and abandoned by their gods due to their weakness. All Urdias look to the day that they will finally destroy the Sazars and reclaim their homeland.
Rashali certainly wishes that. A widowed peasant woman, she has vowed to restore her people to greatness. Then she meets Prince Eruz, heir to the Sazar throne, and both their lives are turned upside down. Prince Eruz is a man whose conscience leads in down a perilous path between loyalty and treason. His efforts to do what is best for all the people living in Urdaisunia puts him at odds with his father, brother, and half-brother. Both of his brothers think that they should be the heirs. His father confuses his compassion with weakness.
The meeting of Rashali and Eruz have come to the attention of the gods. They become the subject of a divine wager. Peasant and prince’s fates are now intertwined. Their paths lead them through palace intrigue, love, and treachery as they fight to save Urdaisunia—the land they both love.
Kyra Halland has woven a tale of forbidden love. A peasant widow from a conquered people and a conscientious prince of the conquering people make an unlikely pair. It is said that gods love irony. Rashali’s husband and daughter died in a famine. She has many reasons to hate the conquering Sazar. She has learned to expect nothing but contempt and cruelty from her overlords. When Prince Eruz accidentally spills the water she is carrying, rather than kill her, he allows her to collect more water. This act of compassion causes Rashali to question her hatred. The prince has long questioned his father’s policy of repression. He can see for himself the desperation of the Urdias. Their meeting causes reverberations on heaven and in Urdaisunia.
The setting has a Near East flavor to it. The story is not a typical romance. Rashali is a grieving widow, and Eruz is in a polygynous marriage with multiple wives due to his royal station. Both rebel and prince have to deal with intrigues in their various groups. Intrigues both know are self-destructive. The story moves along at a moderate pace and is very enjoyable.
Here everything is carefully thought out. Rashali is a simple village woman, struggling to survive in an Urdaisunia now conquered by neighbouring Sazars. Eruz is a Sazar prince, treading a careful path between his father the king, his vicious, squabbling brothers and his own conscience. When chance throws Rashali into his path, he is forced to face up to the consequences of his father’s rule. And then, delightfully, the gods take an interest in matters and start poking around in the affairs of men for their own not particularly altruistic reasons.
I’m not usually a big fan of having gods as active participants in a story, but here it works really well. It took me a while to overcome my resistance to miraculous events that just happen to carry the plot in the right direction. Here, of course, that’s the whole point, the gods are interfering and causing all sorts of things, good and bad, to afflict our heroine. Once I stopped worrying about the realism (or otherwise) of it, however, the story swept me up and carried me along beautifully, and I really enjoyed that aspect of the story. The gods are not at all as you’d expect, and their little squabbles and rivalries are great fun.
There is a little (non-god-related) magic in this world, and one rather clever communication contrivance that weaves into the plot very well. The world itself is a simple one, with just a few neighbouring societies: apart from the Urdai and Sazar, there are the Sangh, the Kai-Kalle and the Xaxan. Urdaisunia, the focus of conflict between these various countries, has two major rivers but (because of a quarrel in the god-world) they are on the brink of drying up, leading to major tensions. The political differences, particularly between the Urdai and the Sazars, form the backdrop to the whole story.
If I have a grumble, it’s that the characters tend to fall neatly into the good or bad side of the equation. The king, Eruz’s father, in particular, was a little too stupid for my taste. Even when Eruz brought evidence of his brothers’ treachery, the king made no effort to investigate, simply believing the brothers. His dislike of Eruz, who was an excellent army commander, seemed somewhat irrational. Kings really have to be better judges of character than that, if they’re to survive long in power. They also have to be pragmatic, and not allow their personal feelings to interfere with political decisions, although I suppose having a son and heir who constantly says, “Yes, but…” might get rather trying.
My only other complaint is that I found the names difficult. Eruz and his brothers, for instance, are Eruzasharbat, Hazramatanarg and Teshtarganazad, and all the rest of the family, army commanders and the like, have similar jaw-breakers. Fortunately they were often shortened. But that’s a minor point.
This is a refreshingly different fantasy, with writing that brings the world vividly to life (I swear I could feel the sand between my toes as Rashali walked through the desert) and a clever balance between the earthly world and the realm of the gods. A very enjoyable four stars.
My only complaint is the number of characters at the beginning, I found it difficult to remember them with all their unusual names, but as the story goes on it becomes easier, the main characters make themselves known and the heartfelt story begins.
This was something different for me, I usually tend towards more modern fantasy novels so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this.
World building is essential in making an epic fantasy novel believable and this was very well done here. The story was also solid, emotional and intriguing. There were moments when I felt truly worried for Rashali and what might happen to her in the brutal world Halland has created. I wasn't sure what to make of Prince Eruz at first but his character grew on me by the end.
Overall this was an excellent adult fantasy novel and I would recommend it to just about anyone.