Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Lady Mage by Alexis Morgan - Book Review

My Lady Mage by Alexis Morgan is the first installment in the Warriors of the Mist series.

I was at Barnes & Noble when I came across this simple yet most inviting cover; a woman on a mesmerising white stallion against a night-sky-forest background. It was – and still is – an artistic cover with my favourite colours combined.

I was hesitant at first. I didn’t know the writer and I knew that most pretty covers enclosed not-so-good books within, but something about that that book kept me coming back to it. On my way out, I picked it up and decided it’s worth a shot. And an excellent shot it was.

Some might be surprised that I am unfamiliar with Alexis Morgan; I’m not American and I have never seen her books here in Egypt.

Back to the book; it was as breath-taking and as intriguing as its cover.

Not being a fan of romance, My Lady Mage is my first fantasy-romance novel. Still, I deal with romance with care for there are often clichés – just read the synopsis of many fantasy books and you’ll notice a pattern – but here, I enjoyed it. And that means Alexis Morgan did something spectacular, for I’m not easy to please.

The novel opens with a sort of introduction titled “River of the Damned” describing the Warriors of the Mist. It begins thus: “The Warriors of the Mist are a legend, their origins lost in the shadows of the past. In dark times, it is whispered, the warriors can be summoned from beneath the roiling currents when a champion is needed and if the cause is just.” (My Lady Mage, no page no. but before Chapter 1).

My Lady Mage revolves around Merewen, whose father ruled their Kingdom in the land of Agathia, but because the law forbids a woman from ruling after her father’s death, Merewen’s uncle, Fagan, takes over. Not only has evil roamed the land ever since, but it also grows stronger with each passing day. The first part in the Warriors of the Mist series focuses mainly Merewen, the warriors, her uncle and his wife and we get a peek at the Duke.

Merewen finds scrolls in her father’s library that speak of warriors that can be summoned to save a land and protect innocent people from evil; they are called the Warriors of the Mist. Merewen’s land has been struck by an unknown evil and out of desperation, she attempts to summon these warriors from the river.
Her summons is answered and five warriors spring from the water.

Alexis Morgan knows how to keep her reader interested till the end – and afterwards. She skillfully uses tension and relief. For example, the novel begins with in a dark eerie atmosphere with the legend of the Warriors of the Mist then with Merewen trying to reach the river without being caught by her uncle’s guards. She summons the warriors, her plea is answered and shortly afterwards we meet them. After all this tension, Merewen faints and the reader gets a bit of relief, when one of the warriors asks “Is she well?” And another answers “No. She’s not. She’s unconscious…” (p. 7). (I personally thought it was rather funny).

Although the warriors are hundreds of years old, they still view one another in their usual age. Averel is still described as the youngest (which I thought was rather cute).

I personally enjoyed how Morgan drew on other well-known texts in literature. For instance, “Then, an arm brandishing a sword burst forth from the deepest part of the river” (p. 5). This reminds me of the popular scene in the stories – films and series - of King Arthur, when the Lady of the Lake raises her arm, holding Excalibur. In My Lady Mage, there is a Lord and Lady of the Lake; another draw on the Arthurian tales. Another reference is in the second half of the story, “For now, the path of the Damned ran together with hers, side by side. Too soon, those roads would diverge, never to cross again.” Naturally, the first thing that came to mind whilst reading these lines was Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”, a favourite of mine. Another example, before I move on to another point, is “The cloth held no magic, naught, but its darkness concealing them in the fading shadows.” This part reminded me of the Elven cloaks in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. (I just had to mention that).
Some might disagree and Morgan will probably be doing this unintentionally – for all writers must have read great works to be able to write themselves. Anyways, for me, it was an additional pleasure.

There are five warriors, led by Gideon and as the story progresses we learn that each of them has a painful past. We also learn how each of them came to join Gideon and become the Damned. (These warriors are: Murdoch, Duncan, Kane and Averel).

There are some parts of the novel that show that there is some sort of mystery waiting to be solved but that is not revealed. For instance, when Merewen first brings the horses to the warriors, Gideon is struck by their stallion, Kestrel, and bonds with him.
“Still not able to explain, [Gideon] pointed toward the pale shape on Kestrel’s neck and then held up his shield with the image of a white gyrfalcon emblazoned on its surface. The two were nearly identical in shape. When [Gideon] traced Kestrel’s mark with his finger, a shiver of power slid through his senses.” (p. 22).

Rereading and typing this bit, I find it a rather odd, but new, image that something can ‘slide through the senses’. (Note to self). This strange connection is not revealed in the story; I’m still curious if there is something to it or if it just a coincidence.

I particularly like the way Morgan describes the warrior Kane. The way he is introduced in the early chapters – and throughout the novel – makes the reader curious as to whether Kane is man or beast.

Each of these warriors is memorable and loveable on their own. I tried very hard to pick a favourite but couldn’t do so entirely; even Kane, who appears to be – and is in fact – brutal and blood-thirsty, cannot be hated or disliked. (Bookworms will certainly love Duncan.)

Each of the warriors has an animal companion (also called “an avatar”), that is faithful to him. They are all very interesting creatures – no clichés here. Kane’s in particular remains a mystery till the end of the novel.

One of the parts I liked, but that wasn’t elaborated on was on p. 35: “Her uncle might rule the keep, but he was still reluctant to alienate everyone. Her people had been known to take revenge in small and irritating ways.” It makes you wonder what is meant by “irritating” in particular here, and I can’t help but give an evil smile whenever I read it.

Going deeper into Agathia and particularly into Merewen’s land, we meet her cruel Uncle Fagan. Not only does he mistreat all his subjects, with the exception of his lot of bandits, but he also abuses his wife, immensely and in public. The reader will at first be struck by the way Fagan and his wife, Alina, address one another: “Wife! Attend me now”, “Yes, my husband.” (p. 82). However, when one becomes more familiar with the two characters, particularly Fagan, one cannot help but say that the way Alina addresses her husband is more than he deserves.  

The society in Agathia is a patriarchal one, where women are not allowed to rule; even it is their birth right. Despite being the daughter of the ruler, Lady Merewen cannot rule in her father’s stead. Thus, her uncle is called in to take her place. Gideon, who is several centuries old, does not see a problem with a woman ruling the land. For me, this part reflected some modern-day societies. Also, as we go on with the story, we see that the focus is always on the male ruler or rather rulers, namely Fagan and the Duke. Lady Alina is Fagan’s wife, yet she doesn’t act like him. The same applies to Merewen. Both women are warm-hearted and kind as compared to the exploitative and abusive rulers. There is a reason Fagan does not kill Merewen although he rules and controls her land – or several reasons as we get to know at the end of the novel.

Merewen is a hard-headed, rebellious woman. Not only is she brave, but she is also very caring and considerate. She, literally, puts everyone before herself and is willing to risk her life for the people who respected her father and herself and who have remained loyal to both.

Towards the end, we meet the Duke, who rules over all the lands of Agathia. There is a reversal of roles in the scene in chapter 22, where Fagan, who constantly terrorises and abuses his wife, cowers before the Duke and is terrified of him. It is an interesting, dead-cold scene.

I am not a fan of profanity and there were some instances in this novel where I felt there was no need for it. On p. 91, “Meanwhile, Kane continued polishing the damned horse’s hide.” Personally, I don’t see a reason for the word “damned” here, especially since what precedes it does not carry any angry tones or the like.

Also, the use of the (‘d) as a contraction for had (most of the time) is very annoying as the reader has to, often, think whether it is ‘had’ or ‘would’. Moreover, it is the only contraction in the text. For me, there should either be contractions throughout or none throughout as well (speech excluded). It also looks out of place. Without this (‘d) – and a couple of needless uses of ‘damned’ – the book would have been utterly perfect!

The first part in the Warriors of the Mist series is by all means a grabber, a must-read. The moment you finish it you feel like you need the second part right after it to carry on the adventure. The characters are memorable, each in their own way. The book contains some adult scenes so I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone under 18 (I suppose that could differ with American and European audiences).

Alexis Morgan’s choice is words and imagery is notable throughout the novel, one of the ones I marked was “before the sun crested the horizon” (p. 18). She wittingly uses tension and comic relief well in her novel, which, I must say, is a blessing.

Morgan also gives her readers a glimpse of the following book, making them more eager and excited.

My Lady Mage is the first romantic fantasy novel I have read – and no I have not read the Twilight series nor do I plan on reading it. This part is succeeded by Her Knight’s Quest, which was published on 5th of March, 2013. It is unclear how many parts the series will be, but @Goodreads shows a third part called Honor’s Price, which is expected to be out sometime in 2014.  

Note to Alexis Morgan: Thank you.
Overall rating: 5 stars.

Check out Nadaness In Motion's book review of book 2 in the series, Her Knight's Quest.

Works cited: Morgan, Alexis. My Lady Mage. New York: Signet Eclipse, July 2012. Print.

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