Two years after the King Rolen’s Kin series, Australian Rowena Cory Daniells is back with another trilogy. It shares many strengths with her earlier series – well-drawn characters, a ruthless streak to the plotting – though it lacks some of the tightly-focused adventure that made The King’s Bastard and its sequels so much fun.
Besieged is an altogether different beast: more thoughtful, but also more sprawling and talky. It centres on a pair of overlapping, mutually-antagonistic societies: the magic-wielding T’En and the self-described “True-men”, or non-magical humans. By long tradition, the T’En are further, bitterly divided by gender, with men and women living largely segregated lives in rigidly self-policed Brotherhoods and Sisterhoods.
This description barely scratches the surface of the world’s dynamics, though, which is both a strength and a weakness: there are weighty themes here, and it all gets pleasingly twisty and complex once things get going; but in the early stages exposition clogs the dialogue, and Daniells’s very plain prose style offers little to offset this. Jumps forward in time are common, allowing characters to grow up and take their place in the plot but also robbing the narrative of momentum and sometimes skipping over exciting-sounding key events.
Nonetheless, protagonists Imoshen and Sorne are engaging, and there’s the tantalising prospect of broad, sweeping social change in the future, rather than the “rightful king” status quo restoration so familiar in fantasy.
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