“I wish I could say this is a story of how I saved everyone and set the world to right. But it isn’t. This is a story of my failure.”
Friends, I think I have a bittersweet fantasy story here you may wish to read. It is a no magic affair set in a secondary world that feels like a time mashed mirror of our own. It has a young woman confronted with some extraordinary choices; and with some choices that are hardly a choice at all. It has heart, it has hope, and it has sorrow.
Of course you are.
This is the story of Laiki, a young woman who is comfortable acting as a private teacher for a rich family’s children but never fulfilled. So it takes very little to convince her to go on a trip of a lifetime. Her studies have taught her the language of Lisan, an isolated country bordering her own Trea. And Lisan has decided to allow a small contingent of Trean scholars to study at their holy city’s new university; a rare chance to learn about their mysterious neighbors is something Trean leaders won’t be passing up.
Lisan is isolationist by choice, using the geography of the area to lock out the Treans after a failed occupation. They are led by Lord Hamin, a former revolutionary who is worshiped as the country’s savior and father. Personal property is gone; the government both collects and provides everything to its people. According to Lisan its people are prosperous and happy, with each year’s harvest and gains being better than the last. To the Treans it appears Lisan is falling farther and farther behind; people living on less and the technology march progressing well behind their own. Rumors of starvation are common.
This is the story of a young woman who wants something different. Somewhat naively she joins this journey, sure that her knowledge from studies will get her through. Never questioning the reason for her journey or the motives of either country. From the outset things go wrong; violence forces her from the prescribed path and she quickly learns about the worst of Lisan life first hand. It is a more calloused individual then that finally finds her way to the holy city. She will from there be shown only what her hosts want her to see, and learning both sides are playing games that she will have to learn in order to get through.
Laiki is the type of character one can’t help but adore because she is the type of character people can see themselves in. She is fairly competent but shaken but what she sees. She proves that despite wanting to do what is right all the time she is not a rock. She gives in to her own impulses; sometimes they prove right and others they cause her problems. She is a bit selfish, but knows enough to be ashamed when she is. Most of all she makes a mistake. This is no secret, she tells you in the first line of the book. And no one I knows wants to read about a perfect person, do they?
The world here is simple enough but something that a reader should pay attention to as the very nature of Trea and Lisan provide plenty of foreshadowing for what is to come. Trea is going through an industrial revolution; railroad is being laid and modern conveniences like indoor plumbing are becoming common. It is a freer society but with hints of inequality below the surface. Lisan is still agrarian in nature, behind in developments and stifled by its communist government. There are cracks in the system but a total education of the youth have kept any real thoughts of rebellion minimal. Laiki is going to learn that going from one to the other will not be an easy transition.
Laiki in Lisan is low action but high intrigue; dealing with small scale politics in a bigger picture and the protagonist’s relationships. There is a lot at stake, but only in some small things does Laiki’s course get to influence it. I think I have an early candidate for next year’s Self Published Gems list – this was an enjoyable surprise.
Copy for review provided by author.