Ray Gun Reviews
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Petrodor by Joel Shepherd

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Petrodor by Joel Shepherd
Pyr, 2010, 441pp.

Sasha has just led a successful campaign in her homeland of Lenayin. The king, her father, has pardoned her for her role in the uprising, but has banished her from her homeland. She finds herself in the port city of Petrodor, home of her mentor, Kessligh Cronenverdt. The city is built on trade and alliances between powerful families. But the threat of war between the Verenthanes and the non-human serrin of the Saalshen Bacosh threatens to throw off the delicate balance of politics in Petrodor.

Petrodor is the second book by Joel Shepherd in his fantasy tetralogy, A Trial of Blood and Steel. Readers of Sasha, the first volume, or of his science fiction trilogy starring Cassandra Kresnov will find much to like in Petrodor. There is the kick-butt female hero and the same sense of adventure with strong action scenes. Many of my favorite characters from Sasha make a strong return to the second volume, and there are many new characters to meet as well.

In broadening the scope of his story, I think Shepherd perhaps loses some of the intimacy of Sasha. The politics of Petrodor resemble a city controlled by two mob families, with dozens of smaller families making and breaking alliances with them. Add to that a dissatisfied working class, a religion driving for a crusade to regain lost holy lands and the meddling of a serrin leader who doesn’t fully understand human psychology, and you have a mixture that is a powder keg. A single spark will set it off.

We see this complexity through Sasha’s eyes, which definitely helps us get into the world of Petrodor. Sasha deepens some friendships, notably with the serrin Errollyn and with her sister Alythia. She finds herself on the opposite side of other friends. By the end of the story, the battle lines become more definite, making war in the Saalshen Bacosh all but inevitable.

Spicing the story are scenes from events taking place back home in Lenayin. Former lordling Jaryd Nyvar plots revenge against those who killed his father and younger brother, with the tacit approval of the king. Princess Sofy contemplates her upcoming wedding, which will solidify Lenayin’s alliances with the southern lands and pledge Lenayin soldiers to the crusade on the Saalshen Bacosh.

The Trial of Blood and Steel series definitely has to be read in order, and Petrodor has the definite feel of a middle book. But the writing is still strong and compelling. Shepherd has a definite knack for writing about compelling characters in stressful situations. It is not always clear who the villains of the piece are, which I think is an enjoyable realistic touch for a fantasy work.

Petrodor is a strong continuation by a rising star of speculative fiction.

(Reviewed by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt)

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