War of the Rose
The Serpent & The Rose; The Golden Rose; The Last Paladin
By Kathleen Bryan
I enjoyed this series quite a bit. It’s got some of your usual fantasy trappings (beautiful noble lady falls in love with common man, knights and magicians and devious villains), but also some pleasant surprises. The world is obviously based on a fantastical Europe (where Britain = Prydain, Ireland = Eriu, etc.), but did not try to stay too close to reality or history or even known folklore. The story takes place in the equivalent of France, but aside from similarities in linguistics it’s not a France we’d recognize, and does not play on any of the classic European legends (with one notable exception in Prydain’s Myrddin, but even that Bryan gives a new twist). The structure of magic (and the different schools therein) was refreshing, and for once the author didn’t feel the need to overexplain the mechanics of it; the mages themselves don’t always know how their magic works (particularly in the cases of main characters Averil and Gereint), so the reader doesn’t know either. That sounds like it could be annoying, but was actually an enjoyable bit of mystery.
Without giving away too much of the plot of the book, I’ll say that the main struggle the characters face (aside from their forbidden love) is that in order to save the world from the doom that threatens, they have to get an entire nation to put aside ages-old traditions and ways of thinking – themselves included. The people of Lys (particularly the mages) are so set into one way of thinking, one way the world must be, that they don’t even acknowledge that other ways (and threats) are possible. And so great tragedy strikes in the first book, revealing the villain and overhanging evil, and setting the main characters on their path. Averil and Gereint spend much of the series trying to persuade everyone and themselves that in order to save their world, it has to change; people have to change. I’m simplifying for the sake of brevity, but it’s an interesting choice for the main plot/motif of a series, and I found in this instance that it was particularly engaging and believable.
I give it 4/5 stars.