Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The Poisoned Princess (Warders #1), by Armen Pogharian (author), Michelle Babb (narrator)

Audiobooks Unleashed & Blackstone Publishing, ISBN 9798212152945, January 2022

Toran is a half-elven, half-barbarian young man, who has been raised by his elven uncle. It's only when an accident in a war game with friends briefly unleashes his barbarian battle rage that his uncle tells him the full truth of his heritage. It becomes important then because the elf supremacists (no, Pogharian doesn't use this loaded phrase; that's me) succeed in banishing him. Aside from contributing to his banishment, it also means he has a really useful inheritance from his dead father. 

His uncle sends him off to the city of Eridan, where elves and elf mixes are fairly common and accepted, with a letter of introduction to an old friend.

Toran finds his uncle's friend in the tavern his uncle said he would, though it's rather seedier than he had anticipated. Nevertheless, he's given work, and room, and settles in fairly easily. His elven hearing makes working in the tavern a more interesting job that it might have been, because it's a hangout for the members of the Thieves' Guild, and other people of dubious means of earning a living. When the imminent arrival of the Princess of Veloria is announced, like everyone else who can get the day off, he's in the crowd watching the procession. He is, as always, wearing that inheritance from his father--two recurved swords slung over his shoulders. He's very skilled with them, and very fast (elven speed), and he thwarts an attempted assassination of the princess. This leads to him being drawn in to a group called the Warders, who are dedicated to protecting the city of Eridan in ways the city guard can't.

It should be no surprise that the tavern owner his uncle sent him to is prominent in it, and his uncle is a former member.

As they work to track down the assassin, a second attempt is made, and the princess is poisoned. Due to a quirk of how Eridan's wine is flavored, she isn't dead--but she isn't going to survive long if the Warders can't obtain the key ingredient for the antidote quickly.

From here, we have two parallel tales. A party consisting of Toran; the princess's handmaiden, Adrelle; and the leader of the group, a dwarf named Draham, are off to obtain and bring back that key ingredient for the antidote, while another team is trying to track down the traitor within the princess's entourage.

These are all interesting characters, with multiple layers. Adrelle in particular is worth noting as tough and smart, and not easily intimidated. Draham is no cookie-cutter dwarf, either, with wit, intelligence, and a very believable conviction that dwarves were not meant to ride horses.

What's surprising is that Pogharian gives that same attention to the assassin, Yuden. He's a member of the Shaulan assassins' guild, and...for him, this is just a job. We get a couple of point of view chapters for him, and see him enthusiastic over a ball game in the street, very professional in his attitude toward killing people, surprisingly squeamish about torture. He's a really bad guy, but he's a quite human bad guy.

I should also say that Toran's skill in tracking, as well as with the bow, are presented as a result of his uncle's elven training, not Toran being particularly "special." The swords are another matter, but they're from his dead father, and, in a world where magic is common, well, I'll say no more. Toran is a clever and tough young man, but not anybody's Chosen Hero. That's part of what I like about Pogharian's books.

The target audience for this is "young adult and up," and it should be noted it opens with a rape scene, though not an explicit one. Some parents might want to be aware of that before handing it to their advanced-reader younger kids.

The narration is very good.

I received this audiobook as a gift.

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