Review of historical fantasy She’s the One Who Doesn’t Say Much by S. R. Cronin
Olivine, the fourth of seven sisters, has been hiding a secret as she travels to K’ba to meet her artist friends. Others assume she has fallen in love with another artist, and it’s not a match Mother would consider suitable. But it’s much worse that. For on the way to K’ba is the dirt poor nichna of Scrud, a place scorned by all other Ilarians. And in Scrud is the one man who understands her.
However, Bohdan is also is a realist, and a man who recognizes the dangers posed by an impending Mongol invasion. When he learns of Olivine’s unusual visual powers, he convinces her to pick up her bow and arrow and start practicing.
She does, though she’s more concerned with producing enough art to raise the funds to run away from home and live in K’ba, where she can paint all day and see Bohdan as often as she wants. If only her sister Ryalgar hadn’t learned of what she can do and decided Olivine and her fellow long-eyes held one of the keys to defending the realm.
Then, as if life wasn’t complicated enough, Olivine learns the artist community she yearns to be part of has developed a different take on the invasion. They feel certain the only way to survive is to capitulate completely to the Mongols demands. Artists who feel otherwise are no longer welcome.
Where does her future lie? The supposed invasion is coming soon and Olivine doesn’t have much time to decide.
“What’s your name?”
The softness in his face told me he meant to be polite, nothing more, but such a direct question from a Scrudite made me nervous. Yes, I needed his help, but I’d been taught to use caution when dealing with these people.
“Must you know my name in order to tend to my injured horse?” I asked. I stood tall, willing my slight frame into all the bulkiness I could.
He laughed, but his shoulders slumped as he turned away from me.
“No, I’ll help you no matter how disagreeable you are.”
Bold words from one such as him. “I’m not disagreeable.”
“Perhaps not,” he said. “Maybe you’re frightened. I have trouble telling the difference.”
His words froze the response on my lips. I was scared of him and his people. Most Vinxites, especially those from families like mine, had never spoken to a Scrudite.
I turned my artist’s eye upon him. Despite his weathered skin he was young, like me. Unlike me, he had muscles from a life of strenuous work. His hair, lightened by the sun, shown with glints and his clothes were the usual mishmash of tattered rags worn by Scrudites.
“It’s just a sprain,” he said as felt around my horse’s front right ankle. The mare stood still, unusually cooperative around a stranger. He massaged her leg gently.
“I’ll get a poultice on it. Let her rest overnight; she’ll be able to walk on it tomorrow and carry your things, though you shouldn’t ride her yet. Not for a few days.”
“She can’t possibly rest here for the night. I’ve no place to stay.”
I had to pass through a small piece of Scrud to get from my parents’ farm to the art studios in K’ba where my friends lived. I knew our poorest nichna lacked the inns found throughout the rest of the realm, but I hadn’t worried. My journey was short, and I didn’t intend to stop. Who knew what a stranded traveler did here.
“No Scrudite would expect a stranger to sleep alone in the desolation.” He seemed offended at the thought as he pointed out toward the dusty openness. “Our wolves are far too bold. You’ll sleep with me.”
“I’ll do no such thing!”
Another laugh, this one more amused.
“That’s not what I meant. The people of Scrud do not force themselves on each other, much less on those passing through. One of my sisters will be glad to share my hut to put you at ease. I’ve room for three. I’d prefer to send you to her hut, but your horse needs to remain still, and I suspect she’ll only do so if you stay nearby.”
This man, this Scrudite, was doing his best with me. It wasn’t his fault my horse had managed to step into a hole only paces from where he made his pitiful life. Despite his situation, he’d offered me as much courtesy as any gentleman in Pilk would have. Perhaps more.
“Thank you. If your sister is as kind as you, I look forward to meeting her.”
I looked around. He and his family had to be part of the clan of Scrudites who lived in tiny huts hugging the forest’s scraggly edge, making their meager living carving the beautiful hard woods growing at the margins of their nichna. Our entire realm valued the products they produced, and some thought his clan accessed ancient magic to infuse into their creations.
I’d always considered that last bit to be wishful thinking. Some Ilarians imagined they saw the old magic everywhere they looked.
As he turned to fetch his sister, I reached out for his arm to stop him. He seemed startled at my touch.
“Olivine,” I said. “My name is Olivine.”
“Odd name. Mine’s Bohdan.”
“Thank you for helping a traveler, Bohdan.”
Another wonderful installment in this series. Every book introduces a bit more of this expansive world. The new people and cultures enrich what came before while still leaving a sense that there is much left unseen. I enjoyed this peek into some new places and look forward to seeing what unravels in sequels.
I liked the artist take—especially the idea that it’s tough to get started in a creative pursuit. Truer words were never spoken. Without spoiling, this book also just made me mad about how people let their pride and beliefs stand in the way of someone else’s livelihood. The phrase “get over it” springs to mind, but unfortunately, grabbing and shaking the person being a jerk rarely works. That said, the ending was satisfying in many ways.
If it isn’t clear by now, I love this series. Watching a huge conflict come to life from multiple perspectives is a fascinating take that I don’t see often. Usually, the “prep for war” part is kind of glossed over in favor of the drama of battle. So if you are really into the nuts and bolts of how society comes together (or doesn’t come together) at a time of crisis, I can’t recommend this enough.
About S. R. Cronin
Sherrie Cronin is the author of a collection of six speculative fiction novels known as 46. Ascending and is now in the process of publishing a historical fantasy series called The War Stories of the Seven Troublesome Sisters. A quick look at the synopses of her books makes it obvious she is fascinated by people achieving the astonishing by developing abilities they barely knew they had.
She’s made a lot of stops along the way to writing these novels. She’s lived in seven cities, visited forty-six countries, and worked as a waitress, technical writer, and geophysicist. Now she answers a hot-line. Along the way, she’s lost several cats but acquired a husband who still loves her and three kids who’ve grown up just fine, both despite how odd she is. All her life she has wanted to either tell these kinds of stories or be Chief Science Officer on the Starship Enterprise. She now lives and writes in the mountains of Western North Carolina, where she admits to occasionally checking her phone for a message from Captain Picard, just in case.
Find her online:
S. R. Cronin will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
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