Noel-Anne Brennan,
The Blood of the Land
(Ace, 2004)

When Rilsin sae Becha was 8 years old, her aunt engineered a coup that left Rilsin an orphan. Nearly executed herself, she was saved by her cousin Sithli sae Melisin after an assassin burst into the room where she was to be condemned -- and killed her aunt. In return, Rilsin vowed to serve Sithli and always support her as Saeditin's ruler. As an adult, however, Rilsin found that she could not in good conscience allow spoiled, reckless Sithli -- who was selling her own citizens into slavery -- to continue on the throne. In a coup of her own, she took back the throne which was hers by right. This is the story chronicled in The Sword of the Land.

Now, in The Blood of the Land, Rilsin has been on the throne for a little over a year. Her cousin Sithli and Sithli's main supporter Kepit sae Lisim have escaped to the southern kingdom of Runchot. But Rilsin is not necessarily secure on her throne; although the commoners of Saeditin love her, some of the nobles are less than pleased; they became rich under Sithli's rule and are not happy to have given up their profits.

Sithli, meanwhile, completely forgetting that her mother stole the throne from the Becha family in the first place, is plotting with the Runchot prince to take back "her" kingdom. When Rilsin's baby Reniat is kidnapped, the result is war with Runchot.

In Rilsin SaeKet Becha, we have a strong female protagonist. Even with her daughter and lover missing, she can still put the needs of her kingdom above her own -- the one thing that Sithli sae Melisin could never manage. In fact, there are four strong women involved in the struggle between Runchot and Saeditin, Rilsin; Kepit sae Lisim, Sithli's adviser, who uses Sithli to advance her own schemes; the mysterious Kirra, who offers troops to Sithli, but clearly has her own agenda; and Phara, princess of Runchot, who may or may not be trying to stop a war.

Noel-Anne Brennan has created an interesting and unique setting with Saeditin. The kingdom is always ruled by a woman, through the maternal line. A man cannot rule and only inherits in rare cases. To readers used to the traditions of pseudo-medieval-European fantasy, where women wear skirts, are oppressed and are the heroines only when they're bucking the establishment, Saeditin can at times be a little confusing. Here, women habitually wear trousers, a steam age is beginning and guns have just been invented. Confusing, perhaps, but once you get used to it, the proverbial breath of fresh air.

- Rambles
written by Laurie Thayer
published 6 November 2004

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