The thirteenth book I’m reviewing is Morgan Smith’s A Spell in the Country, a novel of the high fantasy series The Averraine Cycle. It’s written in first person and is stylistically similar to Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series or George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, though much smaller in scope and ambition.
The narrative follows Keridwen, a soldier and a young woman in the army of Keraine, a land caught in a long and arduous war against the neighboring land of Camrhys. Keridwen—or Keri, as she is more often called—is a tough and capable soldier, initially accused of treason against the kingdom but permitted to return to service at the backwater stronghold of Penvarron. While in Penvarron, Keri gets caught up in a sorcerous conspiracy against Keraine. She finds herself being used as a pawn in the power struggle between those loyal to Keraine and those covertly working for Camrhys, a struggle that gains supernatural aspects.
The writing excels in this novel. Keri’s voice and perspective comes through strongly, and while the pace is fairly slow, she is an engaging and believable-enough character to hold the reader’s interest throughout the book. The greatest strength to this book was its level of detail. The writing doesn’t gloss over the challenges of being a medieval soldier. It’s specific, and it’s gritty, and I must confess that I felt a little bit of envy toward the author for conveying that world more convincingly than I have in my own work. Morgan Smith seems to have done her research exceptionally well, and I commend her for that. The worldbuilding was also impressive for me, not because it was especially complex but because it was believable. The world of the story is very close to the real one. This isn’t fantasy with elves and dwarves and orcs and magic wands, instead it’s a credible medieval world in which magic exists in small subtle ways, primarily feared by the common people. The magic and ritual of the world is at odds with the official religion of the population (led by priests who worship a goddess), which also impressed me with its proximity to the way that belief in magic and ritual is at odds with authoritative beliefs in the real world. The book also handles suspense very well. Without giving away any spoilers, there is a lengthy section of the novel in which an unknown antagonist is murdering Penvarron soldiers and Keri must try to work out who it is, and the way suspense and fear were conveyed in that section was outstanding.
I did say that the pace is slow, and that’s worth considering if you favor fast action-packed fantasy novels. I would not say that the book is boring at all, but it’s not a thriller. It takes some patience and dedication from the reader to see it all through to the end. That being said, there was hardly anything wrong with it, and I quite enjoyed it. I’d definitely recommend it for fans of medieval fantasy and high fantasy.
And now as always, the plug. If you liked this book review, you can see my others here: