by Evie Manieri
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Review copy received through the courtesy of the publisher, Jo Fletcher Books
A generation has passed since the Norlanders' great ships bore down on Shadar, and the Dead Ones slashed and burned the city into submission, enslaving the Shadari people.
Now the Norlander governor is dying and, as his three alienated children struggle against the crushing isolation of their lives, the Shadari rebels spot their opening and summon the Mongrel, a mysterious mercenary warrior who has never yet lost a battle. But her terms are unsettling: she will name her price only after the Norlanders have been defeated.
A single question is left for the Shadari: is there any price too high for freedom?
Choosing the next book to read is not a complex process, but it can prove to be a difficult one. However, rarely it happens for a title to end up in the sieving operation with little or no information or background to support their nomination for the next possible reading choice. Fewer still are the books that actually end up read after that without digging for further details about author, title or series, as is the case with Evie Manieri’s “Blood’s Pride”.
With the choice made, I opened the first pages of Evie Manieri’s debut novel and came across a fairly standard opening and prologue. A land is invaded by unknown forces, the religious figures of the attacked nation desert their people and the country ends up conquered and enslaved. What happens next in “Blood’s Pride” is far from ordinary. Evie Manieri creates a conflicted world, not particularly from the perspectives of the conquerors and the conquered, but especially through the angles drawn by the characteristics of the involved nations, through the struggle of the individuals to deal with each other and with themselves.
The conquerors, Nordlanders, come obviously from the North, a land found mostly in the dark, have little tolerance for light, which proves a major inconvenience considering that the conquered land is mainly a desert. They also have the ability to communicate through telepathy, consider the Shadari, the conquered people, inability of telepathic communication repulsive and the use of language repugnant. Their capacity of telepathy leads also to a more direct connection, because the dialogue involves the exact feelings of the interlocutors as well. This skill extends to the use of weapons, swords can be controlled in certain conditions through the power of the mind as long as they are forged with a certain metal found in the Shadar (it is the main reason for the Norland invasion). One of the key elements of “Blood’s Pride” is not only the intolerance to light of the Norlanders, but also the physical contact with the Shadari, contact which in its eventuality would lead to a certain degree of burning for the Norlanders or freezing for the Shadari. The Nomas are the third nation of Evie Manieri’s novel, free people living in the desert of the Shadar, also capable of telepathy and without any interest in the conflict between the Norlanders and Shadari, acting as a buffer between the two aforementioned nations. As an aside, they come with an interesting particularity of their own, the romantic and matrimonial relationships are consumed once a year, in between the women navigate ships on the sea while the men live in the desert.
These particularities and characteristics converging together lead to a wonderful and original dynamic of the novel. The internal conflict of each of the nation’s representatives is highlighted by their relationship with each other, especially the amorous associations. Because not only the Nomas have their own approach of the romantic connections, but also the love stories between the Shadari and Norlanders have the genuine touch of the heat transfer and the suffering it can cause to the lovers. This element adds to the characters in love with someone from the opposite nation a new and very interesting dimension amplifying the work Evie Manieri does on her novel’s protagonists.
Like the novel and its prologue the characters start in a similar standard and flat fashion. But once again their development cannot be in any way called standard. Frea, Eofar and Isa, the children of the Norlander governor find themselves between their homeland, their native inheritances and the customs of their people and the land of adoption and its people. Rho, one of the soldiers stationed in Shadar, faces his conscience, the Shadari Daryan, Harotha and Faroth are caught between internal struggle and the fight for liberation, the Nomas king Jachad Nisharan has to maintain the neutral balance of his people in the existing conflict of the novel. There is another one, The Mogrel, who also walks a line between the Shadari and Norlanders, but I’ll leave it aside because going deeper will spoil her demeanor. All these are just parts that give solidity to the characters and make them anything but standard. As a matter of fact, I believe it can be easily said that Evie Manieri’s “Blood’s Pride” is a character-driven novel. In this aspect it is better than many fantasy novels I read.
I am very fond of the novels focused on characters, it is what attracts me the most to a book. And I loved the particularities of Evie Manieri’s world building. But despite all these I cannot name “Blood’s Pride” the ideal match for my reading preferences. The novel reaches a point, around its middle, where is losing its momentum. The plot seems to fall prey to the characters and the main conflict diminishes its importance. Slavery is a condemnable practice, but somehow in “Blood’s Pride” the oppression of forced labor doesn’t reach its full extent. In my opinion, an approach from a darker light of this side of the story would have put more force behind this particular conflict. However, something good is driven from this shortcoming, none of the characters can be clearly define as the positive or negative ones. It can be said about two of them that they could incline the balance towards one part or the other, but there are enough reasons behind their actions to see them following personal dreams and interests through the wrong course of action.
Evie Manieri’s “Blood’s Pride” might not be the perfect match for my reading taste, but it has clearly outlined characters, original world-building and an engaging story to be a solid novel. And a quite promising start for the “Shattered Kingdoms” series.