Thursday, January 13, 2011
Inda is the second son of a Marlovan prince. His destiny, to be the military commander for his older brother, who will succeed his father as prince, has been set for him since his birth, and Inda is shaping up to be a military genius in training. The summer he is ten, Inda is sent to the Marlovan capital city to train at the princes' academy with a crop of other noble second sons from around the kingdom. It's clear that war is on the horizon, because this training of very young boys is unprecedented. Threats are escalating from pirate attacks, neighboring nations, and most frighteningly, the mysterious Venn from the north. The young princes may be playing war games, but the pressure they feel to master the art of war is very real.
Inda immediately begins to shine as a star pupil at the academy, and to win loyal friends among the other second sons. But the royal city is a dangerous place, and adult politics trickle down quickly to the young princes. Inda and his friends, particularly the king's second son, are being targeted, by both older princes and by adults. When unthinkable tragedy strikes, the blame falls unfairly on Inda, whose life is upended in a most dramatic way.
Inda is the first book in a four-book epic fantasy series, and follows Inda from ages 10 to 16. It's not a Young Adult book--it's epic fantasy, written in the style of adult epic fantasy, and is certainly morally complex enough to read as an adult novel. I do think there is crossover potential, though.
The book is packed with rich characters and high adventure, battles, romance, pirates, politics, duty, and ghosts. There is very, very little magic, and to me it almost reads like historical fiction (albeit the history of a made-up world). I haven't read any other of Smith's books, but from what I've read about her oeuvre, her series are all set in different epochs of this world she has been building and writing about for the past forty years--in other words, a very richly developed and highly consistent premise.
Since I finished reading Inda in December, I've recommended it to (or bought it for) about fifteen different people, all for different reasons--there are many facets of appeal.
I confess that I found the first 50 pages difficult to navigate, just because of the many names (the characters all have titles as well as first names and family names, and just about 100% of them have nicknames, too). But on the advice of a friend I put aside worrying about all the details and kept reading--and am very, very gratified I did. The sheer number of characters becomes manageable as you get to know them all and see how their lives intersect, and Smith has such fine-tuned commitment to character development that I became rather emotionally attached to an awful lot of them. I would recommend this series wholeheartedly, and just advise readers with less exposure to/stamina for epic fantasy to keep plowing through the first 50 pages. Smith and her fans have also compiled online databases where you can see all the characters listed and grouped, if you are the kind of reader who is helped by visual aids. I do think the accessibility of the book is a flaw, but I hope it won't prevent readers from experiencing the richness of the story.
One thing I really appreciate about Sherwood Smith's world is how it scrupulously avoids the black/white good/evil hero/villain stereotypes that pervade the fantasy genre (think of almost all the big players, like Harry Potter or The Wheel of Time series). All of the characters in Inda, even the archvillains, are nuanced characters with complex motivations. Everyone is redeemable, which makes the adventure have much higher stakes, and the tragedy even more tragic. Because of the wide cast of characters and broad scope of the story, I realize my synopsis fails to even mention a lot of my favorite characters.
It's a complex novel, and I hope if you've read it (or end up reading it after this) you'll come back here and chat about it--I find it's hard to write up a concise review. But this is really special fantasy, and I hope if that's a genre of yours you'll give it a shot!