A long-limbed beauty straightened up from the edge of the still waters of Prophetess Cove, turning to face Hallad. The woman’s white hair silvered in the cast of the moonlight, shimmering off her naked limbs. Beads of water clung to her skin like hundreds of white jewels. The woman fixed her cool gaze on Hallad. Her hardened eyes defied the fact that she bared all to a strange man. Hallad could not turn away. No matter how hard he tried to look askance, his eyes stayed prisoner to her own iron black.
The empty space inside Hallad rushed with emotions he couldn’t identify. As their eyes connected, awareness surged through every muscle, bone and the blood of his body—a sense that on this night, the Norns drew forth his destiny from the rune stones. A shine in her dark irises, a flicker of her eyelid, told him she felt the same.
from Bonded: Book One of the ShadowLight Saga,
by Mande Matthews
Bonded: Book One of the ShadowLight Saga, by Mande Matthews, is my fantasy read for The Eclectic Reader’s Challenge 2012; I had previously identified it to be my romance choice, but the author’s input—and my reading—caused me to change up the genre. As Ms. Matthews related to me, the story does involve some romance, but it isn’t the main thrust of the tale.
I have to confess that I read very little fantasy these days, mostly because the majority of novels within the genre I read in my younger days were either trying too hard to be Tolkien-esque or were sadly influenced by someone’s role-playing game adventures. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Michael Moorcock, and Fritz Leiber were about the only fantasy authors I enjoyed. So now I must confess that I liked Bonded very much.
The story is set in Scandia, a land very much like the Scandinavia the name suggests, with the people of the land revering Norse gods such as Odin and Freya. I’m not well-informed on either ancient Scandinavia or Norse mythology, so I would have a hard time relaying how alike or not the setting is to their actual counterparts. I can say, however, that lack in no way interfered with my enjoyment of the novel, the people and places seeming at once strange and familiar.
Hallad, the son of a village chieftain, is banished from his home and, along with a pair of trusted friends and Swan, the enigmatic silver-haired woman, begins a quest to both find out the identity and nature of Swan and the fate of his sister, who mysteriously and literally vanished shortly after meeting Swan. He soon learns that almost everything he believes about himself and both the world he lives in and those beyond are not as they seem, and his connection to Swan is much closer than he had anticipated.
There’s a lot to like about this story. Ms. Matthews is an excellent writer, and her descriptions of the characters and the world around them are evocative without being overdone. The primary characters compliment each other well, and their strengths and quirks are believable and, at times, entertaining. In particular, the stoic Erik and the proto-bard Rolf—brothers, and Hallad’s companions—are skillfully contrasted.
The novel’s pace is quick without feeling hurried, the plot threads are woven together beautifully and logically, and the feelings of mystery and suspense help propel the story forward while ensuring that the reader is constantly turning pages to see what’s next. One interesting device the author uses is bringing characters in direct contact with the myths they are familiar with, only to find that the reality is a bit different. Ingeniously, though, these realities aren’t necessarily less magical that the mythological version—only different.
While reading Bonded, I didn’t feel as if I were reading a stereotypical fantasy story, and that’s a good thing.
There isn’t a whole lot to call “bad” in this story. The only thing I could point out would be that Lothar, the tale’s antagonist, seems to be defeated too easily in the end. Keeping in mind that the main conflict between he and Hallad is Lothar not wanting to be found, and that a major portion of the novel’s action is attempting to locate him, you could say that he was more formidable than it seems. Also, this is the first novel of a series, and I’m sure even greater challenges await Hallad, Swan, and company.
There’s nothing much to say here; the book is independently published by Guardian Tree Press, and appears to be professionally edited: there were no distractions while reading. Add to that a gorgeous cover image and clean, consistent layout (Kindle version read on my Android phone), and you have a pleasant reading experience.
I’ ve read more fantasy novels that have made me feel like I’d wasted my time than I care to count. Mande Matthews’ Bonded is, happily, not among them. I’m glad I took the opportunity to read the book, and I look forward to Book Two of the ShadowLight Saga. Four out of five stars.
One More Thing…
As I’ve tagged this book as my fantasy read for The Eclectic Reader’s Challenge 2012—replacing George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1)—I now find that I need to find a romance novel to read. Any suggestions for good romances that might also appeal to a male reader while fitting the “supernatural suspense” theme of this website? Your advice is welcome!