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Sunday
Dec042011

Review: Ghosts in the Yew

Ghosts in the Yew by Blake Hausladen, Rook Creek Books, is available at Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com.

Reviewed by Ophelia Julien

Do not make the mistake that I did by starting to read Blake Hausladen’s Ghosts in the Yew without enough time to finish the book in one large satisfying bite, or at least in consistent tasty nibbles on a daily basis. Though the set-up takes a little time, and rightfully so since this is a complex tale told from the points of view of four main characters, once the story begins to unreel there is no option of putting the book down.

The story is set in the unhappy and decaying kingdom of Zoviya.  The ruling family has been in power for two generations and their government cares little for the kingdom’s citizenry beyond the labor and taxes that can be squeezed from them. Nearly equally powerful is the Church of the god Bayen, whose priests have the power to heal with a warm blue light but who are also rigid, autocratic, and unforgiving.

Prince Barok, one of the Lord Vall’s numerous sons, has been banished to the farthest reach of the kingdom as punishment for a bit of family intrigue that has gone wrong. While trying to prove that his brother, Prince Yarik, has defied their father by marrying without permission, Barok is betrayed by one of his cohorts and the endeavor ends with the murder of a nobleman’s daughter as well as the wounding of Barok’s faithful guard, Geart.  Barok himself escapes before immediate discovery of his involvement, and his one last normal morning includes being bathed by Dia, a beautiful young woman who has been pledged to him for her father’s debt. That, however, is the end of life as he has known it when his participation in the events of the night before is discovered and he is banished to faraway Enhedu, with the alcoholic Leger, his newly appointed alsman.

Dia, naively confusing her morning romp with Barok as an expression of his love for her, hides away in one of the prince’s trunks so that she may go with him on his journey. She is discovered early on by Leger, who gives her the means to follow her prince to Enhedu independently.

And this is really the start of the adventure. In Enhedu, Barok is maneuvered into a grove of yew trees as part of a test, and what he finds within that grove, and what finds him, provides the backbone of this story as the immature and unpleasant young prince grows from a royal prat into a powerful and just ruler. Along the way, as they become more and more indispensable to Barok, Leger finds his own salvation outside of the bottle, and Dia realizes what it means to be a worthy match for the young prince.

In the meantime, Geart, who was wounded but did not die, is charting his own parallel and magical course of self-discovery that will bring him back to his former master in a manner that is both inevitable and spectacular.

...Hausladen weaves a story that is as believable as it is complicated, and as compelling as it is entertaining. 

A young, spoiled, self-centered prince with a temper, a woman trained to be a palace courtesan, and two soldiers, one alcoholic and one left for dead at the scene of a royal crime, are the unlikely start of a new day in the decaying political mess that is Zoviya, but Hausladen weaves a story that is as believable as it is complicated, and as compelling as it is entertaining. This is not only due to the fact that he is a wonderful story-teller, but also because he has created characters that are so real they could easily step free of the pages and onto terra firma to shake your hand.

Ghosts in the Yew is one of those gems that is a satisfying tale from start to finish, and deep enough to withstand multiple readings. If you yearn for adventure, swordplay, justice, and romance in one story, do not even hesitate before plucking this one up and diving in feet first.

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