Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope (Paranormal Fantasy Novel, May 2018).
An award-winning author of fantasy and paranormal romance, L. Penelope kicks off a new series, The Earthsinger Chronicles, with this sweeping imaginary world novel. Two nations, ancient and bitter enemies, take centerstage here and face each other across an ancient magical wall.
Caught between two hostile nations, of mixed heritage and now orphaned and alone, Jasminda lives in an isolated cabin near the normally impenetrable magic barrier that keeps the ever-warring lands apart. On her side of the border, the land of Elsira is a mostly peaceful land whose people have a deep prejudice against magic. They rely on ordinary technologies (motorized vehicles and trains, firearms and the occasional airship), unique onto itself but if pressed one might call it steampunkish.
On the other side of the barrier is Lagrimar, ruled viciously by an apparently immortal dictator called the True Father. The oppressed and brutalized people of Lagrimar all are born Earthsingers, able to channel the forces of nature in limited but impactful ways. By rights, they should be able to make their nation as prosperous as Elsira. But the True Father’s obsession with conquering their neighbors prevents this. He steals the magical powers of his enslaved subjects to gather his personal strength and force temporary openings in the protective barrier, sending his armies against the Elsirans. This has been going on for centuries, with mutual hate entrenched between the two peoples. He has turned his entire nation into an armed camp, with fighters trained since childhood to be his violent tools. A tiny underground resists his schemes and a few are even in hiding across the border in Elsira.
There’s also a racial dynamic at work, as the Lagrimars are darker skinned than the Elsirans. The latest Breach War happened about 20 years ago. Elsira again held off the attackers and when the wall reformed itself, some Lagrimar soldiers were trapped as POWs in the other country. They were eventually released to live as enemy aliens, shunned and watched suspiciously, barely tolerated by the locals–except for a religious order of nun-like women who see that get basic necessities.
Jasminda’s parents were a captured Lagrimar soldier and one of these compassionate women. But now the True Father is again poised to break the protective wall, possibly this time permanently. Jasminda encounters Jack, a badly wounded Elsiran who (helped by a resistance magic spell to pass as a Lagrimar) had been spying across the border. A squad of the True Father’s soldiers have followed Jack through one of the still-small holes in the barrier. They capture them both and the two must put aside any mutual suspicions (and their instant, mutual attractions toward each other) in order to escape, and so Jack can report what he’s found out about Lagrimar’s invasion plans.
They do escape, but this is only the beginning of a sprawling adventure. Jack is way more than a brave soldier and spy; Jasminda has powers and a destiny she doesn’t even begin to suspect. Prejudices and politics, love and hate, ancient myths and contemporary religious dogmas all combine for a powerful tale, with two nations’ joined fate–and the fate of a seemingly doomed love–are all seamlessly stitched together.
I’m not going to spoil everything with over-much detail, but I’ll say the book climaxes in a satisfying fashion. Main plot elements are resolved, but there are remain some challenges remaining for our two loving protagonists. Hence I recommend this book and look forward to further adventures in this world.