At ConFusion earlier this year, I picked up a copy of Rati Mehrotra‘s debut YA fantasy, Markswoman [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound]. Like everything else lately, it took me a little while to get to it. But once I started reading, I raced through the book.
Here’s the official synopsis:
Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, one of a handful of sisterhoods of highly trained elite warriors. Armed with blades whose metal is imbued with magic and guided by a strict code of conduct, the Orders are sworn to keep the peace and protect the people of Asiana. Kyra has pledged to do so—yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her murdered family.
When Tamsyn, the powerful and dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. She is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof.
Kyra escapes through one of the strange Transport Hubs that are the remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past and finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of a desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a disillusioned Marksman whose skill with a blade is unmatched. He understands the desperation of Kyra’s quest to prove Tamsyn’s guilt, and as the two grow closer, training daily on the windswept dunes of Khur, both begin to question their commitment to their Orders. But what they don’t yet realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is thin … as thin as the blade of a knife.
I called the book fantasy, but it feels more like a blend of fantasy and science fiction. The book is set in an alternate Asia in the distant future, and includes everything from transport hubs to telepathic weapons to words of power. Those weapons are made from metal brought to Earth long ago by The Ones — it’s unclear exactly who or what they are. You also get scenes where you glimpse the futuristic cities of (I think) the past.
None of it is fully explained, but there’s obviously a lot of depth to the world, and Mehrotra gives the reader enough to draw them in, leaving us eager for the next piece.
There’s a love triangle that pops up in the second half of the book. Honestly, I could have done without that. But props to the author for how she handled the overly aggressive/stalkery guy. Behavior that in another book might have been rewarded is in this book called out and met with real consequences.
I enjoyed both protagonists (Kyra and Rustan) and many of the secondary characters — particularly some of the elders of the Marksmen and Markswomen. Tamsyn is pretty much flat-out evil, but it works for the story.
The ending felt abrupt. Not a cliffhanger, exactly, but there’s no real denouement. And the next book, Mahimata, doesn’t come out until March of next year.
All in all, I think it’s a strong debut. I’d have liked to see a little more of the larger world and story Mehrotra is setting up, but I definitely enjoyed the book.