Sasha by Joel Shepherd

June 5, 2010

A good friend loaned me Sasha, which is probably one of the better fantasy books I’ve read in a good while.

Sasha is a disowned princess who gave up the intrigues and politicking of her family to instead spend her years apprenticed under Kessligh, a war hero and foreign sword master.

Naturally, the shady drama of her family and the entire realm draw her back in, and she is quickly drawn into a conflict between the banner lords, the two religions of the land, her many siblings and their own goals, and more – which threaten to sink the land into civil war and genocide.

The book managed to avoid every cliche I expected along the way without working at it- the story falls into a natural place, though nowhere I really anticipated. There’s lots of great action, finding the right balance between detail into strategies of medieval war while still being engaging and light.

The world Sheperd describes is low fantasy, the only clearly otherworldly thing is the serrin, a group of people who are mystically inclined, and apparently savants at many things. They make a small appearance in the book, and aside from being pretty awesome at stuff, the only clearly supernatural thing they have is the ability to see in the dark. So.

What I found really appealing was the way in which the various layers of society are depicted and intersect- you have a land ruled by nobles of one religion, a majority of another religion, yet both having mixed enough that it’s not always clear cut ethnic/religious lines, and, of course, alliances and feuds between them ALL.

Sasha’s own journey manages to cover her doubt and growth without simply falling back into, “And now I magically awaken to how AWESOME I am” which is a trope I’m pretty much done with in fantasy. The issue of sexism is dealt with well- she’s challenged at every turn, but also respected by some, and at no point is there a grueling abusive arc, that you sometimes find in stories about dealing with kyriarchy.

I’m giving this 4 out of 5 stars and recommending it as fun, action-y, low fantasy, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequels.

RPGs I would use with this setting

HeroQuest. Sasha is a must-read, Sheperd’s descriptions of the Goeren-Yai pagans and the Verenthane nobles are pure gold for folks wanting to play with the Heortling/Empire issues of co-existence and conflict.

Burning Wheel would also work well here. The serrin are totally Grey shade characters doing grey shade stuff. The low-fantasy aspects tie in real well to the system- there’s no magical healing, people get hurt, crippled even, and that’s just how it is.

Houses of the Blooded or Blood & Honor. The shady politics, the issues of keeping together a fractious nation, war. I could see the larger scale Season mechanics in both of these games playing a big part. (Alternatively, Reign might also work here as well).

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