Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Herbs and Empire: Merchant and Empire Book Eight, by Alma T. C. Boykin. Kindle Edition.

A slightly condensed version of this review may be found on Goodreads, and has been submitted to Amazon.

A sign of my absence from Reader Land: I’m not familiar with the first seven books in the series.

A sign of astounding writing skill: in no way did that detract from my appreciation of this 8th volume: 
  • If there were previously uncompleted story arcs, they were not obvious to me. 
  • If there was some bit of essential information I missed, I couldn’t identify it. 
  • In fact, the ONLY effect that discovering this was the most recent in an 8-volume epic is that I realized I have seven beauties yet to discover. 
  • So, good!

Saxo Birdson is an abused and neglected youth, apprenticed to Master Agri, who raises (giant) ‘great-hauler’ birds for use as draft animals. While performing those duties, a beast healer (Master Jeaspe) discovers Saxo has the power to influence the behavior and healing of the great birds, and insists he be trained in that gift, per the command of the Great Northern Emperor. 

And: the REAL story begins!

Among the MANY things I found particularly noteworthy is this: somehow, somewhere, Saxo has developed the most EXCELLENT habit of repeating back any instructions he is given. While a valuable habit in any job, his developing life will require such attention to detail. Alas, my own dogs are too old to learn a new trick (and by dogs, one may mean 'children').

I found myself nearly giggling with delight, as I read the descriptions of the uses of assorted vegetation.  These ‘primitive’ people are steeped, through and through, with the disciplines of SCIENCE! Describe, explain, predict, control; that’s at the heart of every use of herbs found in the book. It’s transformed the use of medicinal properties of growing things from the mutterings of hedge witches, to a formal body of knowledge, which can be transmitted to future practitioners.

A small note on language: some of the names for things may be totally made up; I really couldn’t say. Others are merely archaic forms, no longer in use in Woodstock, GA, Cultural Center of the Universe, in Anno Domini 2023. However, I sheepishly confess that I had forgotten that ‘kine’ refers to cows; I was thinking it meant ‘pigs.’ It took a reference to horns for me to snap back to reality. Pigs are SWINE, not KINE. Duh, me.

While it is true that this world contains significant magical elements, that is definitely NOT what drives the bus. That job goes to the role of duty, and in particular, to the degree of duty owed to authority. The story is very clear that sometimes a duty to one conflicts to a duty to the other; the society essentially requires that such conflicts exist. How is one to know what takes precedence? (That answer is found in the text as well. )

This was a delightful introduction to what appears to be a sophisticated exercise in world-building. Every step along the way is consistent with things we know, or can reasonably anticipate. None of the characters are single-function villains or heroes; I could say more on this, but I won’t. 

My grateful thanks to the author!

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