I met Jamie Marchant at the 2016 Southern Author’s Expo where we were table neighbors in September. I spent most of the day talking with her, eyeing her selection of books, and brimming with curiosity about her epic fantasy series, The Korthlundia Kronicles. At the end of the day she offered to trade a copy of the first book for a copy of Shadow of the Owl, and I heartily accepted. It took me a little while to start reading, mostly because I was finishing up a second pass through the Name of the Wind at the time, but when I started I entered a world of horses, magic, and love that eventually won me over.
The Goddess’s Choice is the story of Samantha, crown princess of Korthlundia, and Robbie, the gifted peasant boy she is destined to love. Before I get into my view of the story proper, I have to admit that I ended up buying a digital copy of this book after about 50 pages of trying to read it in print. The publishers made some very poor decisions with the layout of this book, attempting, I assume, to cut costs because it’s a rather large tome. So you have margins that are half the width of a standard novel, type that is incredibly small, and scenes that are butted up against one another rather than spaced out for easy reading. All of these issues are easily fixed by purchasing an ebook version, but it’s sad that the publishers handicapped this novel with their miserly attitude toward its layout.
Strange layout aside, The Goddess’s Choice still takes a while to get into. Part of that is the fact that you have a lot of world to introduce, as is normal in epic fantasy. The other part is that the book chops up its chapters into multiple viewpoints and, especially at the beginning of the book, snaps between them at break-neck speed. I would have loved if each of the scenes were more flushed out, possible reducing each chapter to one main character would have helped readability. I understand having the scenes jump back and forth since the events are happening simultaneously, it just seems to be rather arbitrary at the beginning of the book. As the plot ramps up however, the scenes feel more whole, more cohesive, and usually end on a nice cliffhanger that makes you eager to get back to find out what happened to that particular character.
I wasn’t really hooked into the novel until about the middle, when the spy was introduced to the plot. At that point I was intrigued at how clever he was as a character and how grounded the spycraft in a fantasy novel seemed. While the main character is interesting, and her ability to read people through the colors of their auras intriguing, the ability is never really used to advance the plot except in one very significant instance. Robbie too seems to have some missing plot advancement, since he’s visited by three horses that come from somewhere with obvious backstory, but you never know where or what happened to them. These creatures of legend just appear, rather explosively, and require him to tend wounds that are never explained.
There was one last jarring thing for me in the Goddess’s Choice: The use of rather brutal sex and violence in a book that at its core is a little girl’s fantasy about princesses and horses. Without these sex scenes this could easily be a coming of age YA fantasy novel, but the choice to add this sort of content seems to clash with the more traditional chivalry plotline in the book. The book would harken to tales like Sir Galahad, and spends a lot of time with plot elements designed to feed the princess fantasy of the reader, but then jumps straight into Game of Thrones level sex and violence. It is jarring, and although it definitely ramps up the danger for the protagonist, I don’t see that it was ultimately necessary. In the end it seemed to clash with the core themes of the novel and definitely took me out of the immersion.
The Goddess’s Choice is the first in what I believe is a trilogy, and is a strong first novel for an epic fantasy series. It is slow in starting, and a little hard to get into with its constant scene shifts, but once the plot starts rolling it grabs the reader and doesn’t let go until the last page. I never expected to find a fantasy book about horses to be so enthralling, but I enjoyed it immensely.
If you’re looking for a blend of traditional Arthurian fantasy with more gritty modern day themes, you’ll enjoy The Goddess’s Choice.