At least I hope you’re having a happy Saturday. I am because I’ve just read a terrific book and THERE’S A SEQUEL! I’d heard of the first book and had always intended to read it but, somehow, never got round to it. Luckily, a few days ago, it popped up amongst my recommendations on Amazon so I got it and read it and WOW. I owe Kirby Crow a huge apology for leaving it so long to read Scarlet and the White Wolf.
This fantasy novel is set in a complex world where cultural mores, religion, appearance and morality are all sources of prejudice. Scarlet belongs to a minority at both ends of the social scale – a very few are theocratic rulers of a restless mixed population, the rest are subsisting in small close knit villages as farmers and small scale craftsmen. Incensed by the oppression of the rulers, factions of the population persecute Scarlet’s people and pogroms are frequent.
Scarlet feels at odds with his hidebound family so has become a traveling pedlar, hawking handicrafts and haberdashery from village to village. It’s an adventurous life and Scarlet feels capable of dealing with anything. Then a bandit camps on one of Scarlet’s regular routes and demands toll of all travelers. A massive man with the golden skin and white hair of the far North, Liall, the White Wolf, is a genial rogue and when Scarlet is cheeky to him revises his demand for payment from cold hard cash to a warm soft kiss. Scarlet is outraged, as much by his urge to say ‘oh yes please’ as by the demand, and refuses. And so the dance begins, with Scarlet trying to slip past unkissed, Liall trying to hold his company together, enemies old and new showing up to complicate their lives and the clouds of war gathering.
This story won’t be for everyone because the focus is on the world and its complexities. I’ve seen a couple of accusations of overmuch info dumping, but this is a fantasy world with many races, religions and political entanglements to describe. Tolkien boxed clever by having innocents as heroes. Frodo and Bilbo were totally ignorant of the world outside the Shire and so it made sense for Gandalf to bring them up to speed. In this case all the characters are well aware of the set up so the author has got the information across as effectively as possible without any noticeable “As you know, Bob …” conversations.
As for the romance, Scarlet is deep in denial and Liall is achingly lonely, despite being the revered leader of a cheerful gang of bandits. They fancy each other like crazy but there are REASONS, not least that they are both proud and stubborn, and to my mind there’s nothing wrong with that.
A slow burn romance plus intricate and satisfying world building, I can’t wait to read Mariner’s Luck, the second part of the series.