Medium: ebook (342 pages in print)
Overview (No Spoilers):
Deep in the Fenrirfang Forest, you’ll find what remains of Knotwithstadt, a village that was once home to a peaceful colony of humans and laives (i.e., elves). Its demise came when a group of holy knights attacked the inhabitants of Knotwithstadt for not following a newly instated edict, sparing only those too young to wield a weapon. After transporting the survivors to the capital, one of the orphans, Netty, manages to escape the Church’s clutches and finds herself under the protection of Sir Percival, a werewolf who works for the king. Meanwhile, Winter (the Lord Commander of the Royal Guard) aims to stave off boredom by investigating a slew of recent murders, with each new lead steering her ever closer to the adventure she craves. Despite other business to attend to, Percival makes it his mission to help Netty give her mother a proper burial. This means returning to the forest, a place overrun with countless monsters and guarded by ancient magic. While others typically enlist Rangers to guide them in the forest, Percival has someone else in mind to recruit. And it looks like he’ll need the extra help since the Church guards aren’t the only ones searching for Netty…
Released in November 2020, Orphan’s Rite by M. Warren Askins is set in the Dead Men are Dying universe. I can’t speak to other books in this series, but this companion novel is light on magic (though it does exist), instead showcasing a wide variety of mythical beasts (some friends, some foes) along with a few familiar characters and places from Arthurian legend. Seriously, the forest is flooded with monsters, such as gargoyles, ghasts, ghouls, goblins, gorgons, and griffins – and those are just the ones that start with the letter ‘g’! Part of what hooked me is how Askins effectively alternates between spurts of action and moments of calm, allowing the reader to learn more about the characters and the situation without a loss in momentum. Additionally, I appreciated how bits of humor are strategically sprinkled throughout the text to balance out the wilder, more intense moments. Since the storylines of the major players are separate at the start, the first half of the book purposefully introduces the characters, sets the scene, and brings the crew together. From that point on, the intrepid individuals must focus all of their energy on trying to survive whatever trouble awaits them in the Fenrirfang Forest.
This story is told from a third-person point-of-view that shifts across a handful of characters; however, there are moments where it’s harder to identify who should be the narrator of the section when the thoughts of multiple individuals are shared. As for the characters themselves, I felt they were done well, incorporating a full range of distinct personalities. I was also happy to see a significant number of women filling roles as knights, guards, and leaders throughout this story. Speaking of – it’s easy to see how committed Winter is to her job as she considers ways to improve things, but it seems strange to then see her lie to get what she wants and disregard others’ instructions as if they are merely suggestions. That said, I enjoyed Winter and Clarial’s banter and how they complemented each other. Similarly, Sir Breunor’s witty persona countered Sir Percival’s stoic nature. Another highlight is the bond forged between Netty and Sir Percival. Overall, I thought that the pacing worked really well up until the end, where the last few chapters cover a lot of ground, slightly hampering the impact of powerful moments by whisking the reader on to the next scene. But oh, what an adventure it was!
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound!):
- What is the story behind “the scar adorning the right side of [Winter’s] visage”?
- Why is Sir Rebekah nicknamed ‘the Lithe Stone’?
- Why does Rudder know as much as he does? Is he an actual oracle?
- Why didn’t we hear more about Percival’s brother? Was he ‘the watcher on the wall…watcher-ing’? And is Lamorak also a werewolf? How did Percival become a werewolf?
- Since Sir Kay is a laif and Arthur’s half-brother, does that mean Arthur is a halflaif?
- “Camelot was a bold and booming region, despite its ruler leaving the throne bereft.” Why is Arthur in the killing fields? What even happens in the killing fields? Who or what are they fighting against?
- Considering this is Arthur’s Camelot, why aren’t some of the other well-known characters like Lancelot, Guinevere, and Merlin mentioned in this book? Do they exist in this world?
- When Breunor goes to obtain the laif blood, is Silvien even at the brothel? How had Chelsea known to be on the lookout for Breunor? How does Chelsea alert the guard?
- The number of wards between Camelot and Knotwithstadt seems to vary throughout the book – Breunor claims there are three, Winter expects seven, and in reality, they pass four. Why is there a discrepancy? Is there a difference in the number of wards to pass because they’re taking a different route given that it’s winter? Also, how does Breunor determine where the lines for the wards are as they travel through the forest?
- Does Relic actually die at the hands of the gorgons?
- “She’s a half laif, Percival. I do not think her blood will be accepted by the warding magics.” Based on the memories that the reader glimpses from Netty, I would argue that Breunor is incorrect here. Assuming Netty’s brother was also a halflaif, then Netty should be able to pass the wards using her own blood since Gaius had been learning about this process before he died (complete with hand wounds). But I totally understand not wanting to test the theory and tripping whatever magical being is guarding the ward instead…
- Why does Breunor need to swallow the laif blood and then cut his hands to drip blood on the invisible border rather than just pouring the laif blood directly on the ground? How does the magic of the wards work?
- Why does the abowraith settle on Netty? Is it based on proximity? Does it need to find someone affected by the tragedy at Knotwithstadt? If so, why wait until now to attach itself versus when all of the orphans were being moved to Camelot? Did it need to gather its strength?
- Once the abowraith has Netty back in its clutches, why does it cage her up and ‘play’ with the knights? What was supposed to happen during ‘the closing ceremony’? Why not use Netty immediately “as a spirit of vengeance.”
- When laives meet Netty, they not only recognize that she’s a halflaif, but they also always seem to know that her laif heritage stems from her mother – how can they tell? Does it have to come from the mother’s side?
- “Lake Patreka teems with kapreta…” I wouldn’t expect anything less since patreka is an anagram for kapreta.
- “After spending a week in Knotwithstadt, Winter remembered that she still had more than two months to get back for her induction ceremony.” Isn’t it less than that? When the tale starts, Winter thinks, “Six more weeks, then I will be in charge of this…”
- “Every single Trobarkljova sent to become a lampyr has perished at the fountain…” So, lampyrs are (or were) laives? How common are lampyrs? How difficult is it to become one? For how often lampyrs are mentioned in the book, why didn’t we ever meet one?
- Will Winter do anything to avenge Clarial’s petrification? Or accept that it was revenge for Lamben’s death? Will Breunor ever find a cure for petrification? Would a lampyr be able to undo petrification?
- Does Netty have new powers at the end of the book? Can she read minds or is it that she can overhear spoken words from a distance (like she seems to do while Breunor and Percival are getting beat up by monsters)?
Canton: a small territorial division of a country
Garderobe: a privy, as in a toilet
Hillock: a small hill
Liripipe: a pendant part of a tippet
Lists: an area for combat (such as jousting)