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Sunday, February 28, 2021

SPFBO Finalist: A Wind From Wilderness by Suzannah Rowntree review

Official Author Website

Order A Wind from The Wilderness: USA/UK



OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: Hi! I'm Suzannah Rowntree - author of historical fantasy fiction. I live in a big house in rural Australia with my awesome parents and siblings, drinking fancy tea and writing historical fantasy fiction that blends real-world history with legend, adventure, and a dash of romance.

​If you like the mythic fantasy of Stephen Lawhead, S. A. Chakraborty or Naomi Novik, you'll probably like my stories too!

FORMAT: Self-published by the author on October 29, 2018, A Wind From The Wilderness is the first book in Watchers of The Outremer series. It counts 422 pages. Cover design by Seedling Design Studio. Edited by LH Editing.

GENRE: Historical Fantasy

ADAM

Imagine the story of Romeo and Juliet during the Christian pilgrimage to free Jerusalem from the Turks in 1099. Add a struggling old codger of a military count who is trying to do right by the Lord before his body gives out on him. Throw in a centuries-spanning vulture death queen to spice things up, and you have a, ahem, birds-eye view of Suzannah Rowntree’s spirited historical fantasy tale.

This is a story set in a time in place I have little previous knowledge of, and this helped me better relate to Lukas, a Christian boy who finds himself thrown into a century and country he knows little about. We discover this new world together, a foreign and frightening place that is centuries removed from our own. His adjustment from a noble upbringing to a withdrawn, holder of secrets an interesting transformation and his character’s actions are believable. He’s a dumb teenager who makes stupid mistakes: eager to prove himself, brave, in love, and follows his heart more than his brain.

Ayla is a young Turk, growing up on the streets after her family has abandoned her. She is sharp with a sling, clever of tongue and somehow knows she only has a few months to live. Her path crosses with Lukas early in the story, and even though they are fated enemies due to their heritage, they build a friendship that neither of them has ever had before. She has secrets of her own, and is torn between what she wants, and what she feels she has to do.

Count Saint-Gilles is one of the richest counts in all of the Roman empire; a one-eyed, battle-hardened general who is sacrificing everything dear to himself in order to fulfill his God-given mission to free Jerusalem from the heretics. He employs Lukas as a translator in his months-long pilgrimage, while another allied coalition employs Ayla. The three of them struggle through courtly politics, racism, classism, age-old religious warfare, love, loyalty and betrayal along the war-torn path to salvation. It’s exciting stuff.

The battle scenes are standout. The skirmishes between the Turkish archers and the Christian cavalry made me feel like I was a camp follower caught in the middle of the pitch, arrows flying overhead, horses kicking up mud around me. Rowntree’s writing of these battles is sudden, quick, and well-choreographed.

One strike against this book is the heavy cast of generals and nobles that Saint-Gilles mucks about with. Other than a couple of major players – his sidekick of sorts, and a certain gold-nosed antagonist – I felt that many of the dukes and counts and what-have-yous were shallow and interchangeable. By the time I was three-quarters through the book, it was hard to remember which Duke Ellington helped to capture what city or prevented someone from getting the booty they deserved.

Overall, A Wind from the Wilderness is the start of a page-turning story, epic in scope, that is just beginning to reveal its many secrets. It kicks off a series of three concurrently written crossover trilogies, so it’s clear that this is a beloved time period that Rowntree is eager to share with us. It is well-researched, yet contains more than enough fantasy elements that separates it from historical fiction. A well-paced love story, visceral war scenes, painfully relatable religious strife, and quite a bit of history you’ll learn along the way. And an evil time-traveling vulture death lady. Don’t forget about her! Never forget about her.

ŁUKASZ

What a stunning cover! I mean, just look at it. Glorious. And, even better, it ties with the story, shows the setting, and Rowntree's Byzantine inspirations. A Wind From The Wilderness tells an engaging story of Lukas Bessarion, son of a Roman aristocrat, who finds himself transported to a world where he has no family or connections. Enemies from the past are closing in on him, and his only ally has good reasons to kill him. All of this happens in the times of the First Crusade

I rarely read historical fantasy and I don’t care about historical details so I won’t comment on this aspect of the story. I’m more interested in characters, intrigue, and pacing. Rowntree intertwines her protagonists’ stories with real events. We get characters who should be enemies but get close to each other. We get romance, redemption, self-exploration, and growth. And a richly detailed world. While the pacing could be better here and there, the story immersed me and its cast won me over. 

Lukas alone wouldn’t gain my full sympathy - he starts way too pompous and arrogant to be relatable. Happily, Ayla, a resourceful and honorable Turkish girl, makes up for his shortcomings. Plus, they have great chemistry, and they’re fun together. The third important character, Raymond St Gilles, the crusading count engaged in the complex strategizing and politicking felt more distant to me. He’s so focused on his obligations to God, his people, and his oaths that we rarely see his more relatable (or even human) side.

Rowntree’s prose is elegant without getting flowery. Don’t let the dense prologue mislead you - the story reads well and has (mostly) good pacing. In AWftW, historical elements outweigh fantasy elements. The theurgic magic system is there, but it’s not fully developed. Or understandable. Supernatural beings (angels, demons, saints, and djinn) have their hands in the described events, but they remain in the background. Instead, the story focuses on people and their beliefs about the supernatural. 

I suspect some fantasy readers would prefer to get a clearer look at the magic system, and perhaps they’ll have a chance in the sequels.

By turns tragic and triumphant, poignant and joyful, this is ultimately a redemptive read. Rowntree combines historical adventure with fantasy and excels at portraying the emotionally charged interplay of her memorable characters.

Official SPFBO Score




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