This is only the second time I am reviewing a book after having any sort of interaction with the author. And to make this one oh-so-potentially even more awkward, they’re a fellow blogger with whom I have exchanged likes and comments on more than one occasion. So whatever else I may say, I just want to express my admiration for someone who actually did something that I have dreamed of doing: they wrote and published a book. (more than one, in fact) AND did so while blogging, too! That is awesome! Super kudos! So, it is with great pleasure that I present:
Rise: Book One of the War Witch Saga, by Cain S. Latrani, author and fellow blogger.
Rise primarily follows Ramora and Chara as they step into an ongoing war between gods and demons. Ramora is the beautiful warrior-disciple to and adopted daughter of Ramor, a wolf-god of war who found her, the only survivor of a village slaughtered by evil men in service to foul demons. Ten years later, she embarks on a quest to find the leader of these evil men and be the justice that falls on his head. One of the first people she meets as she begins this quest is Chara, a young lady born and raised in a farming village, whose mind is sharp, quick, and agile, and whose legs tend to open rather quickly and easily to anyone who wishes to enter therein. Where Ramora is on a quest to avenge the past, Chara is largely on a quest to make her own future, and the two become very close friends and comrades.
The world around these two leading ladies is the battleground for a very long war between the gods above and the demons below. This apparently goes back to when the chief god chose one of the first goddesses as his wife and the one he did not choose decided to drug, bind, and rape him before fleeing to the underworld, there to spawn those horrible monstrosities which were born of her evil. Mortals of all races have been caught in the crossfire ever since, and so the gods on both sides chose to recruit and empower them, both to help them and to advance their own cause. It’s a divine family feud that can only end in the absolute annihilation of at least one side.
Into this conflict of mythical proportions go these two women, Chara and Ramora, just beginning their own storied, epic careers. They step onto the stage of the world and soon make friends, find enemies, gather precious information, and suffer losses of many kinds as they find themselves directly in the path of the demons’ nefarious machinations. Theirs is an intriguing, riveting saga, thought-provoking and deeply emotional.
And very much not intended for children.
That was, in all honesty, a bit off-putting for me on a personal level. In the context of the texture of the world around the characters, it’s not out of place for the audience to see them in some of their more intimate moments. Even more, these moments are actually fairly important to the plot as much as to the characters themselves, which also goes into the texture of the world.
To explain that, it doesn’t spoil much to mention that a certain angelic sort of figure is straight-up tampering with Chara’s heart, mind, soul, and destiny. This entity has designs to shape her into a weapon of pivotal importance, and so he alters her tremendously. Including who she couples up with, and that has a surprising impact on the plot threads which follow. This important plot moment then leads into both the texture of the world and the themes of the story itself.
On that note, I’m not sure what infuriated me more about this higher being’s psychic manipulation: that he does so, or that so many others (who dwell in either divine or arcane circles) learn about this and don’t really do anything about it. They just stand by and let it happen, and the way he meddles with Chara is so short-sighted that it very nearly destroys her, as well as her most loving relationships, and she knows nothing at all of it happening. That is a gross violation, which one might think would be utterly repugnant to the gods and all their servants, not only on principle but especially because this entire war began because the mother of demons violated the father of the gods. Yet, they do nothing.
Indeed, there are intimations that while the gods mostly frown on what one of their own agents is doing to Chara, they’re less upset about the violation of her and more upset that it upsets their own careful plans. The gods lay very long plans, in which they use mortals like so many chess pieces, with schemes and intentions that take many centuries to come to fruition. Thus the altering of one farm girl’s destiny (one she didn’t like or want) interferes with what future generations were meant to do. Which raises the question of how much mortals really ought to entrust their fates to the gods. Sure, demons tend to straight-up rape, torture, murder, and burn, but the gods are quite clearly anything but flawless. Their plans can go awry, they are not truly united, the enemy can move and act and catch them by surprise, and the part where the greatest of the gods was raped would indicate that they aren’t so much greater than the demons after all. The gods are basically just another race, albeit a powerful one, yet they insist on directing the fates of every mortal in history. And they don’t even always understand mortals.
Now that is something fit to shake one’s faith in divinity.
I mean, I would absolutely oppose the murdering demons by every means available to me, including allying myself with the gods and their forces, but I would not be at all keen on bowing to them. Heck, I might even take it into my head try and use the two sides to utterly destroy one another, but, then again, that would probably just pave the way for any surviving divinities to rule unchecked. Which a proper puppeteer, either divine or infernal, would probably want.
In such circumstances, it is not so surprising that pretty much anything goes. If gods can be so flawed, then mortals can be too. There’s no real authority to limit one’s behaviors, so, really, why should mortals limit themselves? The soul is a bit more amorphous anyway, having no gender (another point I disagree with), so what’s wrong with sleeping around with anyone or even anything who takes your fancy? Heck, that’s one of the more tame things one can do, and humans are so weird for being the only race to make a big deal about sex. Even gods and their divine agents don’t put much value on it (again, at odds with how the greatest of gods was violated in a sexual manner). It’s perfectly nonviolent, after all, in a world filled with demonic atrocities, and those who oppose demons tend to live fairly short, violent lives, so they’re a bit invested in enjoying life with those they care about while they can.
Now, I want to point something out here. You see the little examination I just had about the intertwining subjects of divinity, faith, sexual activities, and such? That all came about because Latrani’s work drew me in and got me invested in this. The world of Rise is vibrant and unique. The characters are entertaining and lovable. The themes at work are powerful while the emotions feel genuine and well-earned. The world-building is… well, all right, perhaps it is a bit hamfisted, but, still, it is simultaneously richly well-developed and easy to comprehend and remember. The extended prologues, going through the mythical backstory, almost threw me off, and it might have been a bit more graceful to sprinkle that in throughout the story, but it served well enough.
In short, Latrani told a well-crafted story in a very enjoyable way that left me thinking about it afterward. Not bad. Not bad at all!
About the only real criticism I have is in how something important to the climax is introduced at the climax. And this, I mean more in terms of constructive feedback. I recall a skilled storyteller once calling on Star Trek when they said, “If a phaser is introduced in the first act, it must be used in the third act.” Conversely, if something is essential to the outcome of the third act, then it needs to be introduced a bit earlier. I won’t spoil exactly what I am thinking of, but suffice to say that there is something which Chara accomplishes with an ancient artifact which could have been easily introduced, even been on Chara’s mind a few times, quite a bit earlier in the narrative. As is, it felt a little deus ex machina. …no, I amend that, it felt entirely like that.
So, is Rise perfect by any means? No. No, of course not. But it’s still pretty dang good, and I am eagerly awaiting the next volume! 🙂 (and I am royally peeved that Amazon apparently does not have it for sale anymore, I mean, how much could it possibly have cost them to keep the kindle version available, at least?)
Rating: 8 stars out of 10.