Left on the doorstep of a military hero as an infant, Rowen Mar was an outsider until a prolonged illness put her on the brink of death and opened the hearts of her small community. That acceptance is the only comfort when news arrives that her father has died in battle. But her sense of belonging does not last long.
In a moment of danger Rowen experiences a horrifying vision of a violent man's deepest secrets and, with the release of her gift, a strange mark appears on her hand. Labeled a witch, Rowen is exiled from her village with the warning that if she ever returns she will be put to death. As she prepares to leave, an offer of employment in honor of her father's service arrives from Lord Gaynor in the White City. With that destination in mind and a leather swordsman's glove concealing the mark on her hand, Rowen leaves the only home she's ever known.
Captain Lore Palancar finds Rowen to be a quick student as he instructs her in the skills needed to perform her duties as varor (bodyguard) to Lady Astrea, Lord Gaynor's daughter. The more time he spends with her, however, the more his estimation of her ability and his attraction to her beauty grow. Rowen may have erected invisible guards around her own heart, but she has unknowingly worked her way into his.
As Rowen discovers the origins of her power and learns both the wonderful and horrible aspects of her gift, the emotional and physical agony she experiences through the simple act of touching another person with her mark makes her wary of becoming close to anyone — and resentful of that necessary wariness. She closes herself off to friendship, worried of what might happen if she gets too close to someone.
Meanwhile, an unearthly evil has taken hold in far-off Thyra, and a lone scribe from the monastery has escaped with instructions to go to the White City to seek help from powerful, legendary beings that may not still exist in the world. As she nears her destination, so does Caleb Tala, a deadly assassin with a particular target in mind — and an army bent on conquering the White City and all who dwell therein.
As the paths of these characters converge Rowen must decide if she can bear the agony of bringing what is hidden in darkness into the light — or if she will neglect the use of her gift and let all she's come to love be destroyed.
HITS & MISSES
It is a frequent lament of Christian speculative fiction authors that most inspy publishers aren't all that friendly toward epic fantasy. This unfortunate slight, however, leaves the door wide open for a young publishing house such Jeff Gerke's Marcher Lord Press to skim the very creamiest cream from the speculative fiction crop; and he has found a rich dollop of that cream in Morgan L. Busse's Daughter of Light.
This novel is fast-paced with unique, visual characters placed within a fresh fantasy world. I love Rowen Mar as a heroine. She is hard-headed, likable, wounded and determined enough to engage sympathy while being unpredictable enough to keep the reader guessing. I also adore Captain Lore. He is handsome, moral, intelligent and … available. He's exactly the sort of wise, older man Rowen needs in her life. But there's another guy in her dreams and … he's trouble. And who doesn't like trouble?
OK, so I have a slightly dangerous fascination with bad boys. Sue me. But I must admit that I really, really loved Caleb — and he fully deserves the "bad boy" title. Here's why:
Caleb Tala is dark, sneaky, handsome — and an unrepentant killer of many. A casual pleasure seeker, Caleb is an entirely self-centered, greedy guy who just happens to have a mysterious, prophetic word spoken to him by one of his victims: "You are not who you think you are." Yes, it creeps him out a bit, but … he kills him anyway. See? Bad boy.
All signs point to Caleb being the lead character of the next novel in this series and I'm holding out hope that he has a romantic future with a certain scribe (who may or may not have survived this book) in the next novel. So … I hope she makes it. The epic nature of the story leaves several subplots unresolved, and I'm excited to see how Busse will drive those storylines through the rest of her series.
TO READ... OR NOT?
With a subtle nod or two to Tolkien, Busse's skill at world building will please fans of general market fantasy while those who enjoy inspirational content will appreciate the artful way the author employs Christian themes within the story.
With plenty of romance and the promise of more to come as the series continues, Morgan L. Busse's Daughter of Light series will be a great addition to the spare list of titles attempting to fill a gaping hole in the inspirational market. A rousing romantic adventure that engages the imagination and the heart, Daughter of Light will delight and refresh epic fantasy fans who've found little fodder for their literary appetites within bigger-housed publishers' inspirational fiction lists.
(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)