A keeper? Oh, yes
Hawkspar is a mostly marvellous fantasy story. Very early on, we learn that the nameless heroine (Hawkspar is a title, a job, not a name) is in terrible danger, and has been plotting for years to escape. Not just to escape by herself, but to rescue a mob of endangered little girls at the same time. This is a take-charge main character.
Meanwhile, we meet the hero. Aaran, a sailor with specialized magic skills, is in the midst of a mission to capture a slave ship and free the victims when he picks up a message from a threatened young slave girl. Could it be his kidnapped little sister, who he has sworn to find? He’s going to do whatever he has to do in order to locate and save the girl sending the message – the heroine, of course.
The story is told in chapters alternating between their points of view. No, the shifts aren’t confusing, partly because “Hawkspar’s” story is told in the first person and Aaran’s chapters are in the third person. And telling the story in this way isn’t just an arbitrary trick to help the reader. To protect other people, Hawkspar needs to fight her way uphill against internal dangers even though she knows winning the fight will destroy her. Aaran moves much more in the external world, and his life has taken him to a much wider range of places and experiences than Hawkspar has known.
Aaran arrives just at the right time to help in Hawkspar’s escape plan – which is a nearly total success, only to make it work she has been forced to let her eyes be replaced by magic stones that give her oracular powers (and are going to kill her). Still, it’s a triumphant climax, right? Well, yes…except that there’s still a complicated political mess, and Aaran’s far from his sort-of-safe home waters, and it’s only page 188 of a 594-page book.
What I really liked about Hawkspar is that Holly Lisle realizes that life’s always more complicated than it looks, and she spends most of the story dealing with the complicated aftereffects of Hawkspar’s escape, moral, physical, emotional, and political. No, what I really liked about Hawkspar was the multitude of characters, and the different places they go to. No, I liked the way that every time things seemed to be calming down, an even harder problem popped up. No, I liked – no, I liked – no, I just plain liked the book.
Flaws? Toward the end, the story did flag a bit, mostly because one of the conflicting countries seemed way too pure-hearted to believe. And the very end of the story involved direct divine intervention; but the fantasy world Lisle spent 600 pages creating is the kind of place where it’s not that strange for one of the gods to just say “Oh, enough is enough, let me handle this.” Also, some key situations are grisly and gory, but mercifully Lisle leaves most of the horrors to our imaginations instead of giving us a guided tour.
I liked it. I’ll read it again.