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- Author: Beth Bernobich
- Book Series: River of Souls
- Publisher: Tor/Forge
- Genre: Fantasy/Espionage Thriller
- Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
Book Review: Allegiance
An exotic espionage fantasy romp
By Chuck Francisco
January 08, 2014
Book Review: Allegiance
Fantasy novels drenched to the bone with a soupy mix of pan-European culture circa the medieval period seem to dominate the genre scene. That's neither good nor bad, it simply is. Arising from that truth, I always find it refreshing when a fantasy work strives to include elements that might seem atypical or alien to the larger genre body. Allegiance, the third and conclusive novel of author Beth Bernobich's River of Souls trilogy, liberally coats the narrative canvas with lush cultural layers influenced by Asian, African, and Arabic flavors. Inevitably a similar question surfaces whenever an author dares to defy the European fantasy novel conventions: "Will this appeal to European and American audiences?". The answer is a resounding "yes", sounded so loudly from the Horn of Helm Hammerhand that Sinbad and his valiant sailors should hear it.
Heroine Ilse Zhalina defeated the eternal king at the conclusion of Queen's Hunt, and now finds herself on the run in unfamiliar country. With his death could potentially come the end of a centuries long war, but only if Ilse can make it to her home and her lover with enough time to intervene. Her lover just so happens to be a master manipulator and spy, formerly an advisor to their king, and currently runs a house of courtesans. But as word of the death of the eternal king brings to spread, pieces on a secret board fall into position for new wars and a deadly grab at power. On top of this mountain of obstacles, it's impossible to know whom to trust when anyone you meet could be an old enemy from a previous life.
The world inhabited by the denizens of Allegiance features a revolving door of souls; when someone dies they will later reincarnate in a new body while still retaining some memories of lives' past. When they come back, as what gender, and in what country, sets up intriguing scenarios for doubles crosses, vengeance, and forever rekindling love. Bernobich wields this setup as a foil in the hands of a master fencer, doubling and redoubling the spy soaked espionage which is at the heart of this trilogy. Indeed, while there is a solid helping of sword play, the most epic of confrontations are political and social in nature. A great balance is maintained, with cat's paws and long swords unleashed in healthy measure.
Ilse is an enjoyable protagonist to ride along with; strong willed, fiercely determined, and clever to a fault. Bernobich does a respectable job of bearing out her main character, while simultaneously allowing the other narrative voices their own tone. Allegiance is a riveting page turner, well worth seeking out. Bernobich does an excellent job during the initial setup, so those new to the series can jump right in without feeling overwhelmed with the nuances of the world. To say much more would be to spoil a great deal of the novel's fun.
Allegiance is available now from Tor Publishing as a hard cover for $25.99. Order it Here.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.