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Karavans #1 (Sword) by Jennifer  Roberson
Review by Christine Fisher
DAW Hardcover Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0756401720
Date: 04 April, 2006 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

The last caravan of the season is leaving the Hecari - conquered province of Sancorra. Their route is threatened by Hecari soldiers and its proximity to Alisanos, a sinister deep woods that transforms any human it captures into a demon. Unfortunately, its boundaries are suddenly changing after decades of stability. On the day before the scheduled departure, a refugee farmer’s family arrives at the caravan's gathering grounds, desperate to join. Fourteen separate diviners have told them that the child they are expecting must be born in Atalanda, a province accessible from the caravan's route by a road closely following the borderlands of Alisanos.

Brodhi and Rhuan are two kin Shoia, a non-human magically-attuned race rare in Sancorra province. As a courier, Brodhi's service oath to the kingdom has been absorbed by the conquering Hecari warlord. As one of the caravan's guards, Rhuan's oath to the safety of the caravan is complicated by the differing needs of the caravan travelers. The two Shoia approach a mysterious internal trial almost as differently as they view the humans they live alongside.

Ilona, one of the caravan's diviners, is closer to Rhuan than any other human, but she remains ignorant of the complexity of his personal journey. Her dreams are troubled by images of the farmer's wife, the caravan turning back, and a powerful storm.

Roberson's experience in crafting historical fiction shows in her creation of Karavans's world. It feels realistically full with a history, social groups, and regional customs. The large cast of primary characters takes some time to introduce, but this leisurely beginning allows curiosity to ferment as each subplot develops. It reads like the first part of a much longer work. The secondary characters also have complete, distinct personalities, and the story is solid. Returning readers of Roberson's work will be impressed by her growth as a writer, while new readers are in for a treat.

One warning: readers who hate waiting in mid-story may want to keep their copy of Karavans on the shelf until the second book in the series is released. The ending leaves the reader not so much at a silent film's cliffhanger as suspended in the gunslinger moment after the six-shooters fire when just enough dust has settled to identify the fallen body. The rest of the aftermath is only glancingly covered. This painfully jarring halt is one more indication that this book is probably a single novel divided by the publisher. The impatience and irritation that the wait engenders are hallmarks of an engrossing read, but this initial volume promises a rich, satisfying journey.

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