Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Burning Land (Way of Arata #1), by Victoria Strauss

Open Road Integrated Media, ISBN 9781497697560, February 2015 (original publication January 2004)

This is the start of a fantasy series. It's a good setup, and it stands on its own well enough, with satisfying resolutions to some important threads.

The kingdom of Arsace has restored its king in exile to the throne, after decades of harsh rule by godless tyrants. They're free once again to worship their beloved god Arata, and publicly celebrate their religious ceremonies. But just a few years have passed, and there's still much rebuilding to do, and one of the outstanding issues concerns renegade Aratists imprisoned by the Caryaxists, who escaped and fled into the Burning Lands--the harsh desert region where Arata is believed to be sleeping. Gyalo Amdo Samehen, a devout priest, a Shaper, and trusted aid to one of the most senior of the Brethren, the reincarnated children of the First Messenger of Arata, is appointed to lead an expedition into the Burning Lands to rescue and bring home any survivors of those exiles. Neither he nor those who send them have any clue what he's going to encounter.

Meanwhile, in Refuge, deep in the Burning Lands, the descendants of those lost Aratists are a healthy, successful colony of over three hundred people, secure in the knowledge that they are the Risen Arata's chosen people, the only people left in the world, destined to repopulate the world when the Next Messenger comes to summon them forth. Axane, a young woman who is the daughter of Refuge's leader, is a Dreamer, a fact she has kept carefully hidden. Dreamers in Refuge, at the age of 35, must retreat to the House of Dreams, confined to a life of sleeping and Dreaming, creating the veil that keeps Refuge hidden and safe from the demons they believe are the only other life in the world. Because Axane has kept her ability secret, her Dreaming is untrained and unconstrained--and she sees the outside world in her Dreams, and has seen enough of the outside world to know that Arsace and the rest of the kingdoms of Galea are still there, inhabited by human beings, and that part at least of her people's beliefs are simply wrong.

Axane and Gyalo are both headed for revelations that will shake their beliefs to their core, and disrupt their societies. And as they each try to serve their people and their faiths, they find their faith even in the leaders they've trusted all their lives crushed and broken.

Strauss builds a world and a religion that make sense together, and treats the inhabitants of that world--traditional Aratists, the divergent Aratists of Refuge, and the occasional atheists, as intelligent, thinking people who have reasons for what they believe or don't believe. They also, for good or for ill, have reasons for their actions.

This is a very solid fantasy novel. Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.