Title: Allegiance (River of Souls #3)
Author: Beth Bernobich
Publisher: Tor Books, 2013
Not only am I drawn to her writing because of her solid worldbuilding, but also because she has created a society where there is less division between the roles played by men and women, and also a fluidity of sexuality. Women are soldiers, they can take on positions of power, and it doesn’t matter who you love. What else I adored was the fact that Bernobich breaks away from the Eurocentricism still prevalent in contemporary fantasy, to gift us with a saga that is distinctly Eastern in flavour without being heavy handed.
Allegiance is chockfull of political intrigue; it is, after all, a story that involves the derring do of masters in spycraft. There is a constant press of urgency, of being hunted down, which keeps up a relentless pace, and yet there are moments of tenderness, of subtle magic. Bernobich feeds in small details so that one can gain a vivid picture of the environment in but a few brushstrokes.
Central to the trilogy is the love between Ilse and Raul, as they fight hard to save their nation from impending war – and theirs is a particularly poignant romance, because their love is threatened at every turn. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried a little for them at the end. Each has an important role to play in the winding down of events that were set up in books one and two, and Ilse proves herself to be a canny heroine, constantly one step ahead of her enemies as she fights to save the man she loves.
For those who are looking for fantasy trilogy that features strong women, who know their minds, and aren’t afraid to go to the ends of the earth to save their world, this may well be the story for you. Bernobich’s writing is lush and textured, harking back to the measured pace of classic fantasy that begs you to hold onto the books so you can read them again to see what you missed the first time round.