Ray Gun Reviews
SF/F reviews — and ray guns!

Sasha by Joel Shepherd

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Sasha by Joel Shepherd
Pyr, 2009, 514pp.

After the death of her brother and heir to the throne, Princess Sasha has rejected her birthright and life in the capital city of the land of Lenayin. She now lives in the countryside, apprentice to the great warrior Kessligh. She is happy with her hard but simple life. But the followers of the Goeren-yai faith see Sasha as something more than a warrior-in-training. She may be the one to unite their clans to overthrow the Verenthane ruling class, whose actions grow increasingly more oppressive.

Sasha is the first fantasy novel by Australian author Joel Shepherd. Mr. Shepherd’s previous series, starring Cassandra Kresnov, has already been reviewed in Ray Gun Reviews . It’s hard for me to avoid comparing Sasha with the Cassandra Kresnov stories, having read both. Both series star strong females trying to find their ways in worlds that grow foreign to them. Sasha starts a little more slowly than the first science fiction novel. But I think that’s to be expected. Even though it takes place on another world, Cassandra Kresnov’s story is set in a future very little advanced from our own. Add cyberspace technology, and we’re basically there.

Sasha‘s early medieval Lenayin is a much more foreign world for most of us, and so Mr. Shepherd must spend a lot more time introducing us to that world. Imagine Northern Europe after the fall of Rome and before the coming of Charlemagne, and you’re pretty close. What the Goeren-yai are rejecting is their Verenthane lords imposing a repressive feudalism on them that reduces them to little more than slaves.

I don’t at all mean by this analysis to suggest that Sasha is a dry historical treatise. The story is very character-driven, starting with Sasha herself. Her anger and passion make her a very enjoyable character to read about. She is still trying to figure out who she is. Trying to deal with the expectations of others adds another level of conflict. Although she is well-trained in combat, Sasha has never fought a war. Will she be able to lead the Goeren-yai into battle? Will she be able to do so without tearing her beloved homeland apart?

The first half of Sasha takes a bit to introduce us to the major players of the story and to set the stage. But once Mr. Shepherd gets going, he really delivers on this set-up, giving the level of page-turning adventure that made the Cassandra Kresnov series so much fun. I recommend Sasha for all lovers of epic fantasy.

(Reviewed by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt)

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