The Golden Arrow, Anna Redmond, Assembly! Press, 2014, 282 pp
The Golden Arrow is the first volume of a fantasy trilogy by first-time novelist Anna Redmond. Intermingling political strife with magic, the tale pits a ruthless ruler, the offspring of a deposed noble family, the Queen Mother and her royal granddaughter against each other as they contest for power.
Patria is a country conquered two decades ago by an enemy state and now governed by Archibald Mercer as a supposed egalitarian society. In truth, though its monarchy was toppled, Patria is ruled as much as it ever was by means of power and influence with the former noble class anxious to regain its wealth and position.
When the Queen Mother awakens from the coma into which she sank after the King's defeat and death, intrigue arises and lives are again in peril.
Nicola, a ravishing beauty at sixteen, daughter of a once powerful family, walks blithely into danger. Her father has arranged an alliance with the Queen Mother by agreeing to have Nicola bound to the surviving Princess Eloise in an ancient and erotic ritual that will make the two young women sisters of each others' hearts as well as lovers.
Joseph de Brulle, Nicola's brother, ambitious and reared in the current political climate, dreams of regaining honor for his family by demonstrating merit and complete support of Mercer's politics.
Alas, Nicola and Joseph are far too innocent and sheltered to comprehend the forces at work around them. The best parts of this expertly plotted novel are the moments of dawning awareness to the realities of their lives as these two attempt to realize their youthful dreams and passions.
I was immediately drawn in as much for the plot as for the more than a few surprising touches:
News travels in Patria by means of "pamphlets" which are a sort of People Magazine/Facebook/blog complete with images and gossip. Nicola and her girlfriends pore over these daily issues as girls everywhere do while members of the government track their rivals.
Along with evolving plot points, the pages of The Golden Arrow sparkle with descriptions of elaborate gowns, social affairs, and the tempting dishes enjoyed by the upper class: roast kid, crisped fowls, lotus buns, comfits with herbs and spices, whiskey chocolates.
Each main character leaps off the page through glimpses of individual episodes of distress, violence, and even madness. The many scenes of ritual and passion between Nicola and Princess Eloise are written with graceful eroticism. As the tale unfolded I felt I was in the hands of a seasoned writer.
The final chapters reveal the meaning and purpose of the Golden Arrow. Yet the book ends with much of its mystery unresolved and left me wishing I could open the sequel right away and keep reading. All very impressive!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I have known Anna Redmond for almost a decade because she is married to my nephew. They also live in the Los Angeles area, are raising two daughters, and regularly attend our family gatherings. When Anna told me last fall that she had finally sold her novel, I begged for a copy and promised a review. Because I knew she read lots of books and was smart as well as savvy, I was reasonably confident I would like her work. Obviously, I loved it!
In today's publishing world it is harder than ever for a new author to become known. I asked Anna if she would answer a few questions about herself as a writer. Here are her answers:
KTW: How long have you been writing? In fiction terms, have you always written fantasy?
AR: I've been writing since I learned how to spell, but I think I've only been a true writer for a couple of years. I discovered this later than I should, really, but there is a profound difference between writing (even writing well) and being a writer. Being a writer means having the courage to take your idea, jump into it, and see it through to end - - which by the way, is something I struggled to do for many years, through half-finished manuscripts in many different genres. When I started writing fantasy fiction, it felt freeing and empowering in a way that was really very profound. At least for me, right now, it felt like the right genre to tell my story.
KTW: In your interview at Science Fiction Book Club, you mention Alexandre Dumas and The Three Musketeers as an influence. Would you care to comment on your influences among fantasy writers?
AR: Ray Bradbury was a huge early influence. He wrote more science fiction than fantasy, although I would argue that a number of his stories were really a blend of the two. I actually remember writing him a letter when I was twelve or thirteen. In terms of contemporaries, I really enjoyed the Game of Thrones series, and structurally, it was an influence in how I chose to construct The Golden Arrow.
KTW: Your novel has an assured political viewpoint. Am I remembering correctly that you have a degree from Harvard in political science? If so, were you aware of that knowledge and training coming into play in the story?
AR: I actually studied Economics and Information Technology Policy! But close - certainly took my fair share of courses at the Kennedy School (of Government) at Harvard. I think what was a bigger influence than my degree, though, was really my family's background - we immigrated from Russia when I was five, and growing up, I watched a lot of communist-era films. I found the way that the politics had filtered down into everyday life to be fascinating. The nature of the propaganda was so different from the way that I was growing up in the U.S. I draw on a lot of that in Golden Arrow.
KTW: Would you place your book into a specific sub-genre of fantasy? I would call it political and erotic fantasy but I don't want to say that if you object to those labels.
AR: Ha! Love it. Political and erotic fantasy. I think that may be a new category. It's always hard for a writer to categorize her own work. My publisher described it as a "political fantasy thriller laced with sex and intrigue." My writing group pushed me to include more sex in the first novel. I held them off, promising more in the second book in the series!
The Golden Arrow was released this month by the publishing arm of the Science Fiction Book Club. It can be purchased there in hardcover and is also available from Amazon in hardcover and as an eBook.