Spirit Gate is the first book in the Crossroads trilogy, which furnishes the backstory for Black Wolves and the rest of the new trilogy to follow. But that's not my main reason for bringing it up here. The first part of Spirit Gate opens with an extended prologue about a middle-aged woman named Marit. Marit is a reeve, which means that she rides a giant eagle, to whom she is bonded. They fly around a country known as The Hundred, dispensing justice and working with other reeves to keep the peace. I fell in love with Marit immediately -- she's fierce, independent, and loyal, and I was thrilled to see an older woman of action in a position of authority. I would have happily read an entire book just about Marit, her eagle, and her much-younger male lover.
And then, less than a hundred pages in, she exits the story, never to be seen again.
I found this development disappointing, and although I eventually connected with other characters, it was never quite the same, and I'm sure my feelings about losing Marit contributed to my lack of enthusiasm for returning to the book after I put it down. And I still often wish that I could have read Marit's story.
Black Wolves is not Marit's story, but it comes closer than almost anything else I've ever read. And for that alone, I would have adored this book, but there is of course much more to like. The story revolves around five main characters, one of whom is Dannarah, a fifty-nine year old woman who is fierce, independent, and ambitious. She's also a reeve marshall, as well as sister to the late king -- in other words, a figure of power and authority, someone who both demands and earns respect. Not a role we often see an older woman filling, especially not in epic fantasy.
Another viewpoint character, Captain Kellas, is also older, a retired soldier in his seventies, pulled back into the king's service by Dannarah's ambition and his own sense of responsibility, to his country and to the royal family he was once sworn to protect. He and Dannarah share a long history, marred by grief and betrayal, and their relationship resonates in ways that just wouldn't work with younger characters.
There are three other main characters, two women and one man, all in their early 20s, and those stories are also compelling in their own ways. But the inclusion of the two older characters, and their very different perspectives on a world that has changed a great deal since their youth, add a balance to the book that's missing from a lot of epic fantasy.
A few months ago, a friend on Facebook was lamenting the lack of characters like her in fantasy novels, saying that she "want[ed] to read about a forty-something single mom who goes on an epic quest." I thought about this, and asked around; a few titles came up (Boneshaker by Cherie Priest and Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold were mentioned the most often, and The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin came out not long after that), but not nearly as many as should have.* I am very happy to be able to add Black Wolves to this short but illustrious list, and I hope this book opens the floodgates to bring us dozens more.
*Further additions to the list are always welcome!
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