As promised, we continue reviewing the SPFBO 6 Finalists. Our next one up is A Wind from the Wilderness by Suzannah Rowntree, chosen by The Fantasy Hive team.
|Series: Watchers of Outremer #1
|Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
|Date of Publishing: October 28th, 2018
Hunted by demons. Lost in time.
Welcome to the First Crusade.
Syria, 636: As heretic invaders circle Jerusalem, young Lukas Bessarion vows to defend his people. Instead, disaster strikes.
His family is ripped apart. His allies are slaughtered. And Lukas is hurled across the centuries to a future where his worst nightmares have come true…
Constantinople, 1097: Ayla may be a heretic beggar, but she knows one thing for sure: nine months from now, she will die. Before then, she must avenge her father’s murder–or risk losing her soul.
Desperate to find their way home, Lukas and Ayla join the seven armies marching east to liberate Jerusalem. If Lukas succeeds in his quest, he’ll undo the invasion and change the course of history.
But only if he survives the war.
Only if his enemies from the past don’t catch him.
And only as long as Ayla never finds out who he really is.
A Wind from the Wilderness is Book 1 in the new Watchers of Outremer series. If you love stories full of dark magic, bloody warfare, and star-crossed love, then you’ll be spellbound by this sweeping historical fantasy!
Jen – 7/10
I found the writing very engaging and though I know absolutely nothing about the Crusades I have to acknowledge the skill in weaving a plot into a coherent story that works alongside world history. At times I was overwhelmed, but honestly, this was probably more a me thing, because I don’t do a large amount names and places all at once very well. And historical fantasy takes me a while to settle into because I am constantly trying to remember what I might know, looking to see where real events and fantasy lines blur.
I thought the scene settings were beautifully done and felt like I had seen some of these places in photos. (Like at Milion the interior with the pillars and rows of columns with the equestrian statue. I hope I had the right name here my phone loves to autocorrect all my fantasy book notes)
The magic is understated and suits the times – blending in with the historical events. I wished for more especially with that neat magic-heavy prologue but not sure it needed it either.
There were a few awkward feeling moments in the beginning and some easy moments to get characters where they need to be or info to us – like Lukas being used to translate or the scrying bowl, but all was very readable and interesting.
I liked Lukas and Ayla’s characters. There was growth for them (Lukas especially) and I was curious to see their stories progress but I also wanted more of connection… I guess.
Possibly my feelings here stem from the fact that basically Lukas gives us a window to witness history and without knowing much about the time period, I can’t tell if he is important to history – he doesn’t feel it. So, his journey to get back home and everything that happens around him is more of a stage for the rest. Albeit, a gorgeously written stage, but I kept wishing for a little more of…something. I think the relationship/attraction between him and Ayla, should have given me that extra umph but because I wasn’t entirely sold on the relationship it didn’t quite give me the connection I was wanting. It was very push and pull which I don’t mind but amongst all the other things going on, it felt a teeny bit underdeveloped.
I enjoyed Raymond’s character probably the most because I really like the military campaigns and warfare, though, I wasn’t always able to keep the other nobles straight and who was on whose side.
The battles were good and tense – especially the one Lukas got caught up in, it was full of chaos and fear and I loved that scene with Lilith and the horses splitting around Lukas. Very cool.
To sum up it up – it’s a beautifully written and enjoyable story. History lovers will probably love it even more.
I’m going to be vague here because of spoilers but everyone that read the book will know what I am talking about anyway, and for everyone else you’re probably better off skipping this part as vague as it is, but I want to talk about how effective a certain scene was to me. So, I had convinced myself of one thing, and even though we are told something different throughout the story, I chose to believe I was right. I have to admit I was a little shocked when I wasn’t… lol. I’m usually so good at reading the signs (considering the nature of the story I feel I might still be partly right at one point in the future). Let me tell you though… that sound is going to live with me forever. The abruptness just made it all the more effective, and the not over-doing the scene, sold it to me more than spending time rehashing it would have. It hurt, and I was a bit pissed-off but it worked for me, so bravo. (I also still have that tiny bit of hope to ease the sting).
Nick – 7/10
This fantasy book was quite an interesting one as it uses two different timelines in a historical setting. The first timeline is Syria in the year 636 during the period of the first crusade. The second is Constantinople in 1097 during the great siege. So as far coming from a place of originality goes, A Wind from The Wilderness definitely carved out some new territory in comparison to the standard tropey fantasy themes.
This is a book that requires your undivided attention as there are many factions and religious armies battling and if you don’t go into it with at least a basic knowledge of the actual historic events, it could hamper your understanding of the situation and circumstances involved. That being said, the story that unfolds against these backdrops is a very good one indeed and I found myself really engaged with the characters as I got deeper into it.
Throw into all of this a forbidden friendship/romance kind of reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, and you have a deeply layered story that has a lot more to offer than the usual fantasy fare. I will also say that this is not an easy read when it comes to subject matter and a lot of what takes place is brutal and somewhat violent (thinking of the time periods, is that any surprise), but if you have the stomach to brave those elements, the beauty and the excellence of the narrative makes the story one that you just can’t take your eyes from.
In the end, I thought that this was a good fantasy story that kept my attention throughout. It will pull you through so many emotions as we battle with these characters through every tribulation that come their way. This is definitely a book that makes you think and yet at the same time there are some cool fantasy elements that will make you pause in wonderment. I definitely liked this one on a number of levels and hope to get to read more from Suzannah Rowntree down the road.
Peter – 6.5/10
This is a book that I enjoyed, historical fiction is a genre that can be wonderful and Suzannah Rowntree has clearly researched and studied this amazing period of history. Set at the time of the First Crusade in Constantinople in 1097 as well as 637, this book had real promise for me.
We follow two POV characters, Lukas Bessarion who is transported to this time and world and forced to make a new life. We also follow Ayla, on a quest for revenge after her family is murdered. I am going to start with what I didn’t enjoy the characters, I just felt conflicted on them. They are both very much on edge with each other throughout the book, never really trusting one another. Considering some of the events they go through, I have might have expected more from them. I have said that characters can be a major make or break for me in a book, fortunately there was enough life in both the characters to keep me going.
Now the really good part of the book was the historical setting, the rich and vibrant world of the Middle East in the time of the first crusade. Now if you are interested in this period, then I think you will like this book and this was a major interest for me. It’s brilliant to see a book set in this period, in a time so remote and far beyond memory, it fires the imagination and I really enjoyed the exploration and world building that Suzannah employs. The fantasy is light, but does play a part that is important in this story and I enjoyed learning about it. The magic, sorcery and elements behind the scenes which I hope that Suzannah develops more as I believe this to be a series.
I think that A Wind from The Wilderness is a really well written, researched and the author clearly knows her stuff about her chosen time period. While the characters are a little bit lackluster, the rich setting and epic battle scenes were something I really enjoyed. This is coupled with the low fantasy element which only piqued my interest and allowed me to enjoy one of the more refreshing entries in this year SPFBO final.
Timy – 7/10
When the list of Finalists was out, A Wind from The Wilderness was the one I was most excited about (not including those books I’ve already read, obviously), as historical fiction is very much my jam (duhhhh). I didn’t quite know what to expect going in as I haven’t read reviews or the blurb, I wanted to be surprised. And though I ultimately enjoyed my experience with this book, I was left with quite a lot of mixed feelings.
A Wind from The Wilderness has three main plots: one involves Lukas, who finds himself in the future (well, future for him anyway), in 1097, during the time of the first crusade. All he wants to do is find a way home to his time and family so he could save them. The second involves Ayla, a young Turk girl, waiting for a worthy cause to fulfill a prophecy. And the third is the aforementioned crusade with Raymond Saint-Gilles in the thick of the events.
While I found the historical aspect of the book very interesting and very well written – it’s clear that Rowntree spent a huge amount of time on research -, I also think it kinda took away the spotlight from the main characters, and their stories. It was a much stronger and more refined plotline than the MCs’. Sometimes I felt that we got way too much about the crusade and their very slow progress toward Jerusalem and not enough about the background of the characters or other events. Especially in the light of how the book ended. At those times I felt the pace of the book dragging, while other times I could lose myself in the pages. It’s a pity Lukas and Ayla didn’t get more spotlight, which prevented me from really connect with them. Or care about them, really. Also, I think I would have preferred if Lukas and Ayla remained friends, their feelings for each other seemed a bit forced and not too unbelievable to me. Though, I appreciate how their relationship highlighted cultural differences and how they tried to overcome those.
If I voiced criticism for The Combat Codes regarding the absence of Fantasy elements, I think that I also have to mention that while in A Wind from The Wilderness there are supernatural elements (the vulture, the ritual, the way Ayla and Armen communicates, etc.) I could have done with some more. As well as answers – about the Watchers, the Vowed, about why they hate each other. Though we might get those answers in later installments.
A Wind from The Wilderness is a fine Historical Fiction novel, one that I’m sure many readers will enjoy. And for one, I’m glad we have such books among the SPFBO finalists this year. I think there are some missed opportunities in this one, but I happily got myself lost in this Middle-Eastern world, which was a nice change from all the European-based fantasies out there.
Our overall rating for A Wind from the Wilderness: 7/10
For more SPFBO content, please visit my SPFBO 6 Finals page!