Published November 30th 2010 by Andrea Host, via Smashwords
Soren Armitage is an anachronism. Proclaimed Rathen Champion by the Rathen Rose, intended to support the rule of a Rathen King or Queen.
But there are no Rathens.
Resigned to symbolising only Darest’s faded glories, Soren is not prepared for the sudden appearance of a Rathen. Now she must find and support the heir despite the machinations of the kingdom’s regent, sylvan curses, and the strange behaviour of once-dormant protective enchantments. While the odds seem stacked against her, Soren is determined to do her best to live up to the name of Rathen Champion. But what is she to do when it seems that there is something very wrong with her Rathen? Can she trust the person she is meant to protect?
It was a whim that made me decide to read Champion of the Rose. I had read Host’s dystopian offering and though I hadn’t loved it unequivocally, I had liked it enough to be curious about her epic fantasy work. I strode into the book completely unprepared as I hadn’t even read the synopsis. And in hindsight, I am glad that I went into it as unsuspectingly as I did because the pleasure I received from the novel was intensified by the very fact that I hadn’t been expecting it to be there.
Host builds a vibrant, credible world in 306 pages which any writer will tell you is not an easy feat. Soren is a layered complex character. She was “chosen” for reasons unknown to her by a somewhat sentient spell whose entire purpose is to keep the Rathen line (lineage?) on the throne and protected. She is the “champion” of a Rathen whom the readers believe to be a newborn baby but who turns out to be a fully grown King to be who had been lost in time.
There are court politics and intrigue, colourful characters peopling the narrative and a clear and crisp narrative tone that keeps the plot together and focused.
Political intrigues aside, the sexuality of the people in Darest is very interesting. Homosexuality and bisexuality are normalized and do not elicit any explicit dialogue in the novel. The romance is particularly well done though a bit shocking initially. It is the first time I have read something like the incident that occurs between the two main leads and it threw me for a bit because I didn’t know who to side with.
The King is lovely. Very flawed and spilling over with issues, as anyone who has been displaced centuries would be, but I found Soren and his relationship to be compelling. The hint of a similar relationship between Soren and the other dude was just as interesting and I truly hope the next book shows some more development in that regard.
I loved this book and cannot wait to get my hands on a physical copy so I can reread it. I have read many novels in the epic fantasy genre and this one, though slim at 306 pages (compared to other novels in the genre) delivers just as much if not more. If epic fantasy is your thing and you want fantastic prose without compromising the plot and characterization, this book is for you. Strongly recommended.