Saturday, March 2, 2013

Initiate by Nulli Para Ora

Bound in service to the king, Initiates are selected and brought to the palace to forfeit their lives and fulfill their calling. That is until duty and honor clash with self-preservation. The resulting test of wills may destroy a kingdom and a new love which should never have seen the light of day.

On the surface, the kingdom of Minra appears idyllic, steeped in peace and prosperity. This peace comes at a price. The villages of the kingdom offer up Initiates—individuals who vie for the chance to be selected as the King’s Companion—to preserve the kingdom. Initiate and Companion are the most honored and coveted roles in all the land, for Companions nourish Minra’s monarch with their life force until they die, allowing their wise king to survive for generations.

Under Ritual Trainers bound in service to the king, Initiates are selected and brought to the palace to fulfill their duty. All Initiates greet this opportunity with happiness and reverence. Almost all. One Initiate forsakes time-honored traditions in favor of self-preservation.

Is this forfeiture of life a worthy trade—or even necessary—for the good of the kingdom? In the battle for superiority, can love survive and overthrow generations of sacrifice and tradition?

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**Warning - review possibly contains mild spoilers**

I was pulled into this one pretty much from page one due to the vibrant world and characters that the author has created here. It is only due to limited time to read that it took me several days to finish, for it really does read quickly, even for a slow reader like me. The author's ability to convince you that something is one way and then show you how it's not anything like that is impressive, though I can't say that the work is without faults, some of which stem from its short length I believe.

Ashland is a wonderful character. Raised in a small village as a peasant, she is highly intelligent and insightful, far beyond what you'd expect from someone with likely limited formal education. She rebels against her fate when she is chosen as an Initiate, though manages to restrain herself enough to keep from embarrassing her family or landing herself in any serious trouble. She is quick witted, and deeply compassionate, and willing to fight for what she believes in though she also acknowledges that fighting is not always the best course of action. She also does not hold so rigidly to her beliefs that she is unwilling to change them when presented with compelling reasons to do so or with convincing evidence that she's been wrong about something. It is her vivid characterization that helps pull you into the story right from the start and that keeps you engaged in it.

Cirian is a very compelling character as well, though in many ways I don't feel that we get to know him as well as we do Ashland. True, we get to see various sides of his character, from the stern Ritual Master who keeps his face covered everywhere he goes to maintain distance between himself and other and thus a measure of objectivity, to the gentler soul who finds solace in tending to a secret flower garden. And yet, for all of that, he felt rather more wooden to me than Ashland did. It's not that I doubt his passion, especially for Ashland, nor do I think him limited in his range of emotions, I just never quite felt any real connection to him like I did with Ashland. He never quite broke completely free of the standard alpha(ish) male mold to me.

Kendrick - I won't say much about him since doing so would probably get too spoilery, but I will say that I wish we'd gotten to see more of him here. He seems like a very fascinating man, to my mind moreso than Cirian is really, and I wish I'd had the chance to get to know him better. Perhaps the author will write a story about him sometime.

The story is interesting, with the situation surrounding the Initiates being both fascinating in terms of the world building, but also rather horrific and heartbreaking on many levels. You know pretty much from the start that at least one of these four people will be fated to die a slow death, the exact nature of which isn't revealed until well into the book (and it probably isn't what you'll think it is). The sparks between Ashland and Cirian are evident right from the start as well, and while it's not entirely surprising that they end up involved with one another, I found that the transition between them being student/teacher, Initial/Ritual Master with an adversarial relationship to being lovers came a bit abruptly, and with not much explanation given of why Cirian would suddenly abandon all the rules and tenants that he's lived by to act on his feelings for Ashland when he'd been managing to control himself reasonably well up until then. Yes, there is something of a "heat of the moment" thing going on just then, but he had been painted as being so always in control up to that point that it doesn't entirely make sense that he'd snap so suddenly when he does.

All that having been said, I still enjoyed this book quite a bit and have few qualms about giving it 4 stars, though my true rating might be slightly below that. I was having my doubts about thing at around the halfway mark, but the way that everything comes together in the end was quite satisfying and makes me more inclined to forgive the portions that feel more than a bit rushed. This one could easily have been expanded to something more like a full novel length, and might have benefitted from it as the author would have had more space to really explain everything, and to let things happen at a more natural pace instead of the somewhat rushed pace that we get in places. I'd recommend this to anyone that enjoys fantasy, especially fantasy with a large dose of romance thrown in, with a smattering of magic and of the paranormal thrown in for good measure.

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