Disclaimer: I am not only friends with Sherwood Smith, but sometimes collaborate with her. So though I had no hand in these books other than a little proofreading, I’m mentioning my closer-than-usual connection with the author anyway.
Sherwood is probably best-known for her YA fantasies like Crown Duel (Crown Duel / Court Duel)
, but the Inda
series is adult fantasy.
This series, which begins with Inda,
is so very epic that I will not attempt a plot summary (and don’t want to spoil some excellent surprises), except to say that it focuses on and spirals out from Inda, a boy (and young man, and man) who is involved in military training, political intrigue, family intrigue, piracy, magic, war, diplomacy, sea battles, land battles, and some notably complex relationships.
The first book, in which he’s a boy at a rather abusive military academy, was a bit difficult for me to get into at first due to the incredible number of characters, many of whom have proper names, nicknames, and titles. While all the major and many of the minor characters are vivid and memorable, a combination of plausible linguistics making a number of titles and names sound similar, and the sheer hugeness of the cast, made it hard to keep track of who was betraying, killing, or marrying whom at times. A cast of characters would have been helpful, but only appears at the back of book four.
However, if you persevere (or just have a better memory than me), the series offers great rewards. There’s no cliché Dark Lord, but rather a whole lot of real-seeming people plausibly driven by conflicting motives. The worldbuilding is incredibly solid and has a lot of originality, with an interesting blend of gritty realism and some utopian changes wrought by magic. The battles, of which there are lots, are inventive and exciting.
There’s an unusual amount of thought given to gender roles. Some cultures are egalitarian, but in others men and women have separate spheres… but the work isn’t necessarily divided up the way one might expect. This series also has one of the most successful attempts I’ve seen at making the domestic sphere feel as genuinely important as the more obviously exciting one of war. There are several awesome old women, not to mention little girls (and boys) combining heroism and childishness is a very plausible manner.
I especially liked the way that sex, sexuality, and gender roles are handled: there’s no conception of religious guilt over sex, but emotions still tie people up in knots; gay, lesbian, poly, and open relationships are not unusual, though personal orientation and feelings must sometimes be set aside or compromised for marriage alliances; the sex scenes, though not graphic, are hot; and the whole matter of love and sex is treated in an unusually mature and realistic manner.
Also, pirates! Secret societies of women! Vikings! Last stands! And more pirates!
For those of you who have read the books, I just wanted to mention that Tau is my favorite, with Jeje a close second. No matter how prominently either of them figured, I always wanted more.
The final book, Treason’s Shore
, brings all the outstanding plot threads and character relationships to a very satisfying conclusion. Even more impressively, it manages to embody a number of the series’ most significant thematic concerns in compelling action: people with seemingly little importance or power may have extremely significant roles to play, birth is as meaningful as death, diplomacy is an important and suspenseful as violence, everything is interconnected and all actions have consequences in the “a butterfly flaps its wings and causes a storm a thousand miles away” sense, and learning, healing, connection, and redemption are always possible should you live long enough and choose to seek out such things – and sometimes come as grace unsought. IndaThe FoxThe King's Shield (Inda, Book 3)Treason's Shore: Book Four of Inda