On this fine Writing Wednesday I need to highlight a friend of mine.
Morgan Busse is a pastor's wife and one of the authors of the well-regarded Marcher Lord Press. She also plays a mean game of Fiasco, so you have been warned. She's been a member of the Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy Tour in the past, and that's how we connected at the ACFW Conference in Dallas last year.
Her first book released last year, called Daughter Of Light. I recently had the chance to read it.
Rowen is an orphan girl left on the doorstep of a military hero living outside a small village in the Ryland Plains. She grows up as an outcast from the tight-knit community, but when her father is killed in the war, it seems they are finally opening up to her. However, a strange mark appears on her hand, and when she touches someone with it, all of his dark secrets are revealed to her.
She is forced into exile as a witch, narrowly escaping being burned at the stake. Her only option is an offer from the White City, where as a favor to her father she is given the chance to become the bodyguard of Lady Astrea, daughter of Lord Gaynor. She hides her mark under a leather glove as she trains under the guidance of Captain Lore, a seasoned veteran who remains a follower of the Word, even as most of the culture has forgotten Him.
As Rowen wins the title of varor, there are forces building that will challenge her to the core. In the east, the dark Shadonae have risen once again, with a lone scribe fleeing for her life to reach the White City. From the south an invasion force mounts, and the assassin Caleb Tana is pursuing a bold plan that would free him from the banality of the army and allow him to retreat to his comforts back home.
Rowen plunges into the chaos swirling around her, wrestling with her own trials from her abandonment, exile, and unwanted curse on her hand. Somehow she must discover the mystery of who she is and her strange calling before the world around her collapses.
Marcher Lord Press has cultivated a reputation for turning out the best in Christian speculative fiction, one that is well-deserved from what I've read from them so far. I'm pleased that Morgan continues in this tradition with a strong fantasy adventure that also challenges the heart.
Her characters make good heroes - they are determined to pursue what needs to be done despite their wounds and weaknesses. The drama from the plot is heightened by the internal conflict Rowan, Lore, and Caleb face. They are believable and sympathetic. I would have liked a little more about their habits or other desires, a quirk that grounds them, but otherwise they were well done. The secondary characters didn't stand out very much, but there aren't many of them to track.
The plot keeps the reader guessing. The conflict and suspense builds, and I never felt like the book dragged. There were no stretches of boring detail. The prose was crisp and kept the momentum growing. The best part of the book though is the heart. The theme of being damaged and dealing with what you've done, or what's been done to you, is a powerful message. The book is by no means preachy, but there are touching passages with opposing characters that make for a brilliant contrast. Rowen's damaged soul is an obvious point for this, but a surprising actor also plays a part in this. I was very impressed with how the theme was handled.
One of the best things was also the most frustrating. Morgan built up enough suspense that the one book couldn't contain it. There are questions at the end of the book whether certain characters are even alive. I wondered about the threat from the Shadonae, the war against the White City, and what would happen to Rowen. I liked that it didn't draw things together into a neat bow. There was enough resolution to the book, but I need to read the next one now. That's the frustration. I want it now.
Thankfully I don't need to wait long. The second book in the series, Son Of Truth, is set to release in a few weeks. I'll be adding it to my reading pile very soon.
Overall, Daughter Of Light is a very enjoyable and thoughtful read and an excellent debut. Yes, Morgan is a friend, but I've read enough fantasy that I'm picky, and I wouldn't say this without meaning it. With some more layering of the character traits this book could be approaching 5 star range. However, I would say it is 4 stars because a debut author always has room for improvement. Morgan's only problem is that she set the bar pretty high from the get-go!