Oraiaphon by Marian L. Thorpe – a novella of The Empire on the edge of history

Oraiáphon – Marian L Thorpe

 

This is a novella of many things, diplomacy, greed and music, but the greatest one is love. Not the obvious kind of a whirlwind romance, but of sacrifice. If that seems a soft option, it is far from it; the sort of love in this short book is painful, hopeful and largely unseen. Following the story of an Empire and surrounding states, this fourth book in a series draws heavily on the themes, stories and characters dominating the books of the Empire, as told by one of the central characters, Lena. In this book, Lord Sorley tells the story of the diplomatic experience of the Empire being joined to another state, his own ambitions and concerns, and the illness of his greatest friend, Cillian. I believe this book can be read as a separate, even standalone book, if only to create an appetite for the earlier novels. It is so vividly written that it carries the reader along, on the one hand to discover what is going to happen, but also to revel in the brilliantly written characters. This book, in common with the earlier three books, is a sort of historical fantasy, with elements of Roman Empire history and language. There is a list of characters and of the unusual words used in the narrative, but also it is possible just to let the story take over. The imagination and construction of this narrative is impressive, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book. 

 

The story opens with Sorley being told of his friend’s illness following wounds sustained in a huge battle. He has been representing his country in the court of another; but now he has been given permission to depart for “Wall’s End” where the new leader of the Empire is quartered with the wounded Cillian and his partner, Lena. Lena is pregnant, and is wearing herself sitting with Cillian, especially as hope for his survival seems slim. Sorley is horrified at the state of both of them. He has long been attracted to Cillian, but knows that the son of the previous Emperor’s one true love is Lena.  Therefore he faces the choice of comfort from a soldier servant, Druisius or Druise, who is aware of the situation. In addition Sorley is soon asked to help with the delicate negotiations between Casyn and a greedy Procurator who has arrived to settle the arrangements between the weakened Empire and Casil who provided the means to fight off threats to the Empire. He protests that he is only able to translate, he has not the skills to be a diplomat or a strategic advisor that Cillian has by experience and aptitude. Moreover, he soon realises that he must provide the support and calming music that is necessary in the Infirmary. Can his love and physical help Lena and Cillian survive this severe test?

 

I found this such an enjoyable book to read and become involved in, with its keen insights into diplomacy and statecraft. Moreover, I found it a fascinating resolution to various storylines which had emerged in the previous novels. It is a powerful and vivid read featuring memorable characters and a storyline which carried me into a world on the edge of history with its consistency. 

 

I really enjoyed this book, especially in the context of the previous three books of the trilogy which mainly proceeded it. I am eagerly awaiting the next book, “Empire’s Reckoning” which is due to come out soon.

I enjoy reading in a series in the background to the shorter and self contained books I usually review on this site. It appeals to my sense of completeness! I have read such vast series as “A Dance to the Music  of Time” in the past, and have kept the copies in case I feel like repeating the experience. Do you enjoy reading series of books beyond Harry Potter? I have also tackled a Dunnett series in the past as well as the Barsetshire books of Trollope and Thirkell. Have you any suggestions for further entertaining series of books?

Empire’s Exile by Marian L Thorpe – Lena’s story of a long and challenging journey

 

A tremendous final book in a stunning trilogy, this is a gripping and sometimes moving book in which a young woman has to find a new way of surviving. Following on from “Empire’s Daughter” and “Empire’s Hostage” this book goes seriously beyond an Empire with a strong resemblance to the Roman Empire into vastly new territory. These books present an alternative history which is nevertheless impeccable in its research and holds together brilliantly; it is a consistent tale in both its setting and characters. Lena has changed much over the preceding two books, from an older girl who loved and lost her partner Maya over the need to defend their women’s village from a seaboard attack. Not only did she learn to become an effective warrior in defence of her home village over a period of some days, but also she began to learn and appreciate the problems and possibilities of leadership, even when mistakes and regrets become inevitable. 

 

Lena is the heroine of a book which revolves around how she learns to survive in the most challenging physical circumstances, with an unfortunate and unfriendly companion.  This is the story of a journey into the unknown, because even where there appears to be a temporary sanctuary,there is always uncertainty and drama. It is the story of individuals in a setting that no one chooses, and where life and death are often balanced on the edge. I found that this book is the sort of novel that is full of so much suspense and drama that I could not wait to turn the page to discover the progress and fate of Lena and her associates. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent book.

 

For the reasons that are outlined in the previous book, Lena is exiled into the unknown lands which lay beyond the known boundaries of the Empire and the lands of any known enemy; the only clue is in ancient writings known to a very scholarly few, which includes Cillian. Cillian is Lena’s only and unwilling companion in exile, an unfriendly man who has few practical skills when compared to Lena. Lena’s life has meant that she is skilled in hunting, fishing and some medical matters. As a soldier she knows only too well how to organise a watch for enemies, how to obtain water and food in unpromising circumstances and how to judge people. She has regrets and guilt about past actions, so when she does have feelings for someone it is not plain sailing in any sense. There is much drama in the journeys they undertake, and this is a continually fascinating read as a result.

 

I really enjoyed this book. It is far from a “woman in peril” book though Lena is frequently in danger; the difference is that she is continually the agent for change. This is (alternative) historical fiction at its best; a credible story, believable characters and a superb consistency of setting and action. This is not a determinely feminist book, but the fact that the main character is a woman who is at the centre of a very lively plot makes it so exciting. This is a truly remarkable book and well worth tracking down.

 

Meanwhile, as many activities and attractions close down, even I was persuaded into our garden! My usual job is picking up twigs and branches that may damage the mower when it does get down. Meanwhile, Husband did the planting and weeding and got very muddy. I suppose it is still only March! Here’s hoping for good weather wherever you are!

 

Empire’s Hostage by Marian L Thorpe – a historical fantasy with a powerful impact

 

A powerful and intense sequel to the impressive Empire’s Daughter, this book is a remarkable story of one young woman’s battle with an Empire and a kingdom. In a delicate balance between historical novel and fantasy, this precise and effectively written story of a challenging time in Lena’s life is remarkably full of suspense. In this second book of a trilogy there are moments of real cliff hangers when I quickly turned the pages to find out what happened next.  Lena has matured as a character and really developed as a Guard of The Wall, after her journey to find her partner, Maya. This novel stands alone as a story of a young woman in difficult circumstances, and I believe it could be enjoyed without having read the first book, as there is a careful creation of character. This is a book which is well constructed in its plot, and the characters have real presence. As with the first book, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this special book.

 

The books opens with Lena being an active Guard on the Wall, which is the northernmost boundary of the Empire. She has moved on from any link with her former partner and her village of origin, as she has found that she is a capable and responsible soldier. While there are few women who are prepared to fight, Lena and others work alongside the men with equal living conditions. The battles between the Empire and the people of Linrathe to the north of the Wall have led to a stalemate in which both sides are struggling for food in an area which has been stripped of crops and wildlife. Despite having met and established a relationship with Casyn, the Emperor’s brother, she is still surprised that she is chosen as his representative. Together with a young man called Darel she is sent north to what looks as if it may be an educational establishment and a time of learning about not only her people but those nearby tribes or peoples that have posed a danger. This being Lena she soon finds herself in trouble with all sorts of people, and is put at risk in many ways.

 

This book may not be based on a recognised country’s history, but it has nevertheless taken a lot of research into horse care, riding practicalities, foods, clothes and many other small details that makes this fantasy so solidly written. I found this a really convincing and absorbing read and I found myself trying to read faster to find out what happens to Lena and those she cares for. Thorpe has achieved a very difficult task; constructing a world with laws, rules, expectations and internal logic. She does this by creating convincing characters, even if they only appear for a short space of time, and watching the details that make a solid world. I thoroughly recommend this book for all fans of historical fantasy fiction with a solid background and a great deal of adventure.  

Empire’s Daughter by Marian L. Thorpe – An alternative, historical way of life for women and men

 

This is the story of an Empire, communities and a woman. Told by the leading character, Lena, this is an epic fantasy which is also truthful to the emotions of individual’s facing challenges both similar and different to reality. Lena, her mother, sister, aunt and others all live in a village of women and girls of all ages, and boys under seven. Men are only permitted to enter the village and be with the women and sometimes their children at certain festival times. Otherwise they are soldiers, boys and men, guarding the edges of the Empire. 

 

The coastal village of Tivan is a self supporting community, with fishing, farming and hunting all undertaken by women and girls. The midwife is kept busy as women can become pregnant at Festival times, and the whole community assists with bringing up the children. Lena is seventeen, just finished her apprenticeship in sea fishing, and shares a boat and her life with her partner, Maya. The village is run by a democratic council of all the women, with three leaders. All is peaceful in a village and an Empire wide system that has run for ten generations. Sometimes Lena wants adventure, going further in her boat, but mainly she is satisfied with life, content in the known and traditional. This book so cleverly sets up the situation and details of the village and its inhabitants  that it becomes a historical novel, complex yet understandable, solid and completely engaging. I recommend this book as an excellent read for fans of historical fiction and those who enjoy an element of fantasy.

 

The real importance of this book is the demonstration that women can not only run a peaceful society, but also rise to a time of unprecedented crisis. After an establishing of the relationships and order with which life runs in Tivan, which details how everything is expected and calmly dealt with by the women, a new person in the village creates excitement and discussion. There are suggestions of a sort of Roman society with communal baths, an Empire of long standing, and a carefully organised society with a huge military element. The technology is also of the Roman era, with sail powered boats, scythes for harvest and crucially knives, archery and other hand weapons for battle. When danger threatens, the best way of proceeding is debated, and it is Maya’s decision to go into exile from the village which affects Lena’s life so profoundly. The training for warfare is exhaustively and well described, revealing extensive and detailed research. The various attitudes, abilities and challenges faced by the individuals in the story really come alive, and surprises and revelations among the detailed progress of close battle really involve the reader. 

 

I really enjoyed this book, and the character of Lena really comes alive through her mixed emotions and feelings. Her impetus to seek out Maya propels much of the book, as well as her loyalty to her village, family and friends. The other characters she encounters, such as Casyn, make her question the way things have been, and whether they have to as she discovers the Empire outside Tivan. The relationships between men and women, characterised by Casyn as “We live apart and die apart”, is at the centre of the novel, as well as the underestimation of women as fighters shown by some men. This examination of an alternative way of life made me, and I suspect others, reflect on the expectations of our society, and in particular relationships between women and the genders. The list of characters is a bit overwhelming in the start of the book, and I wonder if it is too detailed. That is a minor quibble with a book I found memorable and enthralling. I have been so glad to have the opportunity to read and review this novel, and would love to read the subsequent books mentioned in the start of Marion’s saga.