I got bored with sword and sorcery about twenty years ago, although I occasionally dip back in (so easy to sample recent additions to the genre with a Kindle) to see if anything new is happening. Perhaps I don’t look in the right places, but I haven’t found anything to excite me for a long time. This was recommended to me. Thank you, Wayne! The Midnight Sea is the epitome of modern sword and sorcery. And there is a series. Yay!
Kat Ross says she enjoys ‘making stuff up’. And she has an agile imagination. She has chosen to set this series (three books) in Mesopotamia (now the Middle East) at the time of Alexander the Great – as she says ‘a real time and a real place, but with many – okay, mostly – fantasy elements thrown in’. The ‘real time’ in which it’s set Ross says is ‘the collapse of the Achaemenid Empire, around 330BC’.
The premise underpinning the book feels like peering through a telescope the lens of which has been smeared with Vaseline – everything’s a bit squiffy. Ross has done her research, but she’s also taken liberties (and why not?). Ross’s Alexander isn’t quite the force our history books describe. There is an evil queen plotting in the northern hills. Druj and other demons abound. Liches steal the life from anyone they can catch. Against such supernatural evils the King employs his Water Dogs: a bonded pair of soldier and daëva – the daëva being a powerful djinn who is forced to do good through the power of a golden cuff. The paired Water Dogs are very powerful. The power is very important. Much ritual and tradition surround its use.
Into this interesting mash-up of a world Ross drops a young girl from the nomadic Four Legs tribe, Nazafareen. Her sister’s soul was stolen by a lich. Nazafareen comes from a narrow – if constantly moving – world, and is offered the life of a Water Dog where she will be able to kill monstrosities such as liches (there are a number of other horrors). She embraces the change and moves into settled life in a barracks, where there is both luxury and hard training, and her own daëva. From one narrow world to another, you might say. But Nazafareen begins to blossom, growing into a doughty fighter and woman. As she grows so her new world becomes more dangerous. Mighty changes are afoot. What sort of a book would it be if there weren’t? Important players believed long dead turn out to be very much alive. Those believed immortal turn out not to be impossible to kill after all. If Nazafareen thought that the worst grief of her life was to be the loss of her sister, she was wrong.
By the end of the book Nazafareen has moved a long way from her early life as a nomadic herder, and from her duty as a Water Dog. She is making her own decisions about right and wrong for the first time.