Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Skirfallan mage Ackley, newly deposed as one of Prince Taceo’s private guard, is attending the memorial service of those warriors and mages of both nations killed during the Skirfall/Morcia war when he notices something very wrong. One of Skirfall’s infamous Interrogators, Daralis Litwick, is not where he should be, close to their Prince. Instead the Interrogator mage is hiding in the woods near the Morcian Royal Prince, Beorn Ealdwin, and his party. The Royals and their entourages are present for the memorial to honor the dead of both nations and signal the beginnings of the temporary truce. But Ackley knows Prince Taceo’s hatred of Morcia runs deep after the death of his brother and suspects that the Prince is about to attempt an assassination of the Morcian Prince during the ceremony. When the attempt is made by Daralis, Ackley intervenes by trying to block the killing spell. He succeeds in preventing Prince Ealdwin’s death but the spell goes awry in a manner he never expected.
Now Ackley is not only magically bound to the enemy Prince whose land holds archaic beliefs about the use of magic ,he is also considered a traitor to his country. With the assassination attempt, the truce is broken, Ackley must travel back with the Prince and royal party back to Morcia, a land that finds magic and its use abhorrent. Now Ackley must try to break the spell that binds them. But will success mean his freedom or his death?
The Battle of Will is an imaginative, expansive fantasy story from the mind of Sasha L. Miller. Miller has created two conflicting nations, battling over everything from territory to their views of magic. Ackley’s kingdom, Skirfall, has embraced magic in all its uses. Whether the mage is a battle mage or one that sees to more domestic chores, magic forms the base of the Skirfallan nation. Their long-time enemy is Morcia, a nation that values physical endeavors over the magical ones. In fact Morcia fears the use of magic to the point of outlawing its uses in most instances which has culminated in only a few mages to counteract the battle tactics and mages of its foe. From such a great foundation, Miller then creates two diametrically opposed characters and binds them together through an act of mercy and a spell gone wrong. It’s a tantalizing plot and Sasha L. Miller uses it to bring us a whopping great tale of intrigue, misplaced loyalties, treason, magic and of course, romance.
Miller’s descriptions of her universe and warriors are both vivid and intricate in detail. Her soldiers are rank, caked in blood and mud and her battles and action are as realistic as they come. And that same rich, graphic narrative carries over to the mages and the use to which their use their powers, both evil and good. I love the way the author plays with several levels of her story at the same time, giving it a depth and texture that brings the story and the reader together in an intimate melding of fantasy, suspense, and romance. On one level we have Ackley and Beorn dealing with not only a binding that ties them together in startling ways but also the fact that they are national enemies with philosophical differences. It is such a pleasure to watch the men slowly adjust to their situation, learning about each other as their trust and attraction grows. Beorn and Ackley are great characters, living, breathing warriors who are more similar in outlook than they appear. It’s a joy to watch suspicion and mistrust dissolve into friendship and then something more. Trust me when I say there is no instant love, no fast track to sex and the bedroom here. For some readers this snail like crawl to the first kiss will be frustrating, but for me and many others when that kiss does occur, it is all the more satisfying for having been made to wait.
And while the men are making their emotional as well as physical adjustments to their state, Ackley and Beorn, as well as other trusted characters, must uncover the person or persons behind the treachery occurring within the Morcian castle as one death after another brings the court closer to shambles and the destruction of a nation. Miller builds her mystery, with layer upon layer, each so dense that the true traitors are hard to pick out from those just invested in typical court politics. The anticipation, the suspense is wonderful and the final denouement when it comes is as action packed as you could want. I loved Miller’s ability to create a dangerous atmosphere everywhere the main characters go, whether to a dusty library full of vile tomes of poison and torture to a dark deserted hallway that should have been full of guards. She keeps us as well as her characters tense with suspicion and stressed to the max. There is such an amazing depth to her plot and characters that all with stay with you long after the story has been finished.
My only quibble with Battle of Will is that I wished there had been a little more of a romantic connection between Ackley and Beorn, not flirting so much as perhaps a little more recognition of the building attraction to each other. Everything else about this story is colorful, beautifully detailed and rich in layers. I wish their romance had been equal to the power of the rest. I highly recommend this story to all lovers of fantasy, magic, and epic battles for power.
Cover Artist Megan Derr. The cover is the two heraldic flags of each nation, simple but effective.
Approximately 293 pages, 132,000 words
Originally posted as a serialized fiction
Published December 19th 2012 by Less Than Three Press LLC
original titleBattle of Will