Sword Weilding Telepathic Female Warriors - Hit or Miss?
Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra
Harper Voyager - January 23, 2018
Diverse author, Asian inspired fantasy, badass lady warriors - all ingredients for an amazing debut fantasy novel. Except that it fell flat.
*Harper Voyager provided a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*
First, I really appreciated that the press release included with the book elaborated on Harper Voyager's mission. The letter states that the publisher has a commitment to "building a diverse list of science fiction, fantasy and dystopian novels written by #OWNVOICES authors". I love that this publisher is using their platform to help underrepresented authors get their work out to the public.
So here's the premise of Markswoman:
"Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, one of a handful of sisterhoods of highly trained elite warriors. Armed with blades whose metal is imbued with magic and guided by a strict code of conduct, the Orders are sworn to keep the peace and protect the people of Asiana. Kyra has pledged to do so—yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her murdered family. But to be a Markswoman means disconnecting from one’s past completely.
When her beloved mentor dies under mysterious circumstances, and Tamsyn, the powerful and dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. She is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof.
Kyra escapes through one of the strange Transport Hubs that are the remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past and finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of a desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a disillusioned Marksman whose skill with a blade is unmatched. He understands the desperation of Kyra’s quest to prove Tamsyn’s guilt, and as the two grow closer, training daily on the windswept dunes of Khur, both begin to question their commitment to their Orders. But what they don’t yet realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is razor thin . . . as thin as the blade of a knife."
I had high hopes for this debut novel, perhaps a bit unfairly, I wanted this book to be the girl-power fantasy of my dreams. Rati Mehrotra's Markswoman has the makings of a great fantasy novel. However, ultimately the flat characters and the lackluster romance prevented me from absolutely loving this book.
There's a touch of science fiction in here with references to "the Old Ones" who came from the stars and the transportation hubs they left behind that teleport the Markswomen around as well as the magical telepathic metal used in their swords. It definitely conjures up allusions to Ancient Aliens, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective. However, by the end of the novel it's unclear what happened to cause the so-called apocalypse or who/what are "the Old Ones" and it's unclear how it pertains to the story other than providing a convenient way to explain a teleportation device and magic swords.Though intriguing, I'm not sold on the inclusion of these elements. I suppose the same could be said of various fantasy novels' reliance on magic and omniscient characters. So, I suppose Mehrotra is not doing anything distinctly wrong here, I just felt jarred out of a fantasy novel into moments of sci-fi.
I appreciated that there were several strong female characters in Markswoman. As the description suggest the Markswomen in the novel are seen as extremely powerful and the ultimate deciders of who lives or dies; they're functionally executioners, supposedly with the law on their side. The main villain Tamsyn was truly a villain worth hating though we never learn why she's evil. Rather Tamsyn seems like your standard villain hell-bent on power and ambition *insert evil laugh here, while said villain perhaps stroking a hairless cat* Moreover, Kyra, our protagonist, has little character growth and is a hot-head adolescent girl for most of book. Don't get me wrong, I do love these kinds of characters and they can be done well; it just wasn't successfully executed here. I could never truly empathize or root for her during most of the novel. Lastly, I think my biggest gripe with the characterizations is Rustan and later the supposed attraction between Rustan and Kyra. Rustan is a classic brooding hero. Rustan is a Marksman is disillusioned with his life as a Marksman after elders from a nearby clan manipulated him and the elder Marksmen. Again, I can appreciate a brooding handsome young man but it's contrived and I'm not sure it adds much to the story. On top of this Kyra and Rustan supposedly develop an attraction to one another via their fight training. On one had I saw this plot device a mile off, while on the other hand I'm at a loss to see where the attraction develops. The two share fighting practice and exchange a few gruff words but that's about it. In my opinion, this romantic angle really hindered the plot and felt unnecessary.
Despite the lack of character development and the not-sure-why-this-is-in-here science fiction elements I enjoyed the world building in this book; it's set in a post-apocalyptic Asian setting with a return to clans and the Markswomen enforce justice with blades because guns have been forbidden. Thus, a minor element the book tells us that guns have been imbued with almost sentient evil. Though again we don't really learn about how this happened. I like the references to the goddess Kali, meditative breathing, and the switch to female law enforcement (I'm not sure you can call the society matriarchal since we don't see much of society outside of the assassin orders). While the middle section of the book lost some traction, the ending intrigued me enough to want to read the next book - this is mean to be a duology.
Ultimately, Markswoman falls into a middle ground. It's not awful, despite my complaining about the characterizations, I still enjoyed a lot of elements of this book. However, I cannot give it a glowing review. If you're interested in a fantasy book written by a woman of color I say give it a try!