Kiram Kir-Zaki may be considered a mechanist prodigy among his own people, but when he becomes the first Haldiim ever admitted to the prestigious Sagrada Academy, he is thrown into a world where power, superstition and swordplay outweigh even the most scholarly of achievements.
But when the intimidation from his Cadeleonian classmates turns bloody, Kiram unexpectedly finds himself befriended by Javier Tornesal, the leader of a group of cardsharps, duelists and lotharios who call themselves Hellions.
However Javier is a dangerous friend to have. Wielder of the White Hell and sole heir of a dukedom, he is surrounded by rumors of forbidden seductions, murder and damnation. His enemies are many and any one of his secrets could not only end his life but Kiram’s as well.
Anyone looking for a short review, walk away now…
Fra: It started with the Charmed and Dangerous anthology, Ginn Hale’s story in it, Swift and the Black Dog was rather splendid – I knew Ginn Hale rated high with many of my friends, heck I had all the Rifter books in my TBR list and yet, somehow, I hadn’t quite gotten around to actually reading anything by her until the short story.
At which point I had a classic “what in the name of gods have I been waiting for?” This story was so good I just had to read more from the same author. And here I am, two weeks and five books later, in absolute awe of Ginn Hale’s incredible world building skills, expert character development and masterly storytelling.
As much as I would love to wax lyrical about Swift and the Black Dog and Wicked Gentlemen – which, mind you, might still happen – Karen and I have opted to focus on the Cadeleonian series for the purposes of sharing the love for all things Ginn Hale.
Karen: there were so many people who recommended her books to me before I read her short. I was quite apprehensive to start reading, what if I didn’t enjoy her books, would I have to lie to my friends ? No such worry as Fra said we devoured 5 books in about 2 weeks !
I was totally blown away by GH’s ability to balance world building, societal challenges, humour and romance and wrap it up in such lovely prose.
The Cadelonian series, which is 2 sets of 2 books linked, was quite a revelation for me. I haven’t read much fantasy.
Fra: Yes this is an Epic Fantasy. steeped in a world so richly fleshed out and imagined that on finishing book 4 I literally felt bereft even at the thought of having to step back into the real world.
Hale’s language is rich and detailed and crafts an equally rich and detailed world.
Her main characters are products of their world and part of the “hero” quest in both Lord of The White Hell and Champion of The Scarlet Wolf is recognising how deeply encroached both Javier and Elezar are in their privileged and strictly compartmentalised world and the steps they both need to take to realise their own potential outside of the societal norms that have been set out by their upbringing.
The society of the Cadeleonian series is complex and beautifully written – in classic Fantasy fashion there are cultural and societal differences deeply rooted in religious and mystical beliefs; there is magic and science, there’s the privilege of the nobility and the wilderness of the northern regions, tormented heroes who struggle against their own heritage and willing heroes who are prepared to offer themselves up for both love and country.
For me, one of the things I loved the most in this series – and to the same extent in the Wicked Gentlemen is how richly complicated the characters are.
We first meet Javier and Kiram in the confines of the Sagrada Academy – a school for privileged members of the Cadelonian society.
Karen: Yes, the Lord of the White Hell books are sort of young adult, the majority of the characters are in their late teens. The ‘otherness’ of Kiram and Javier is dealt with extremely well
Kiram – himself from a privileged background- is nonetheless an outsider, the first of his race to attend the Academy on the strength of his scientific achievements.
Javier is an orphan, and alone and isolated in many ways. From his heritage – curse included – to the need to keep his true nature hidden, Javier isolation is also beautifully represented by the encircling symbols which supposedly confine him to his space.
Fra: Even at this early stage Ginn Hale manages to convey how different the Cadeleonian and Haldiim societies are, first by making Kiram physically other to the Cadeleonian young noblemen in the school, and then by gradually etching the cultural beliefs of both set of students and pitching one against the other.
Where the Cadeleonians are a patriarchal society, governed by strict rules, a rigid religious system which asks for blind faith and submission, the Haldiims are matriarchal, accepting and generally described as a gentle, more human society deeply rooted in science and logical reasoning rather than blind faith.
Karen: Yes I particularly liked the way that the cultures initially seemed so very black and white, and yet as the plot developed that became blurred. It would have been very easy to make the series a lot simpler, but at no stage does GH patronise her readers or over simplify things.
Fra: It is possibly one of the best narrative twists I have read in a long time that in reality we are faced with the presence of tangible magic and the occult in the Cadeleonian society – as embodied by Javier’s White Hell but that it is the rational and secular Haldiims who show more understanding and compassion of Javier’s peculiar problem as embodied by Kiram.
Where the Cadeleonian priests and school authority punish Javier for bearing the White Hell, the Haldiim – who have long confined magic and religion away from the running of their society – offer Javier understanding and ultimately a solution to the White Hell “curse”.
As the story progresses and the world becomes more detailed more nuances are added to the complex relationship between sociocultural constructs, personal longing and the different cultures come to clash in the second two books of the series.
With Elezar representing the Cadeleonian word but an outsider in the context of the more fluid North which, notwithstanding being under Cadeleonian rule, still retains its own cultural characteristics and histories including a diversity unheard of in Cadeleon and an element of being a last bastion against a factual enemy.
Karen: In the Champion of the Scarlet Wolf books, five years have passed. These books are more grown up, and the issues slightly more complex. At its core, for me, is the issue of choice and free will. Skellan, one of the MC’s is a powerful, if not the most powerful witch alive. Because of how he has been raised he is an advocate of freedom, but will he become corrupted by the court and his power ?
Fra: Both couples, Kiram and Javier; Elezar and Skellan and the secondary characters are deeply seated in the world they inhabit. Not only they represent it physically but their actions and stories are in constant tension with the belief system, the space they live in and the cultural expectations of their social status.
Where Cadeleonian society, inhabited by Javier and Elezar, refuses to even acknowledge same sex attraction, never mind relationships; for the Haldiim is par for the course as it is for the Labaran world of Skellan and their diverse society.
Framed into the epic narrative of the good vs evil main plot there is also the personal narrative journey of both set of main characters.
As they battle forces greater than themselves the characters also overcome the rules of their society; as they race to “save the world” they also subvert its constructed rules by abandoning them in favour of universal values and the denouement of being true to themselves.
Javier battles the White Hell and his growing attraction to Kiram; Kiram battles his frustration at Javier’s denial and grows more understanding of the religious and mystical beliefs that underly the world he lives in; Elezar fights literal monster and his perceived monstrous attraction to other men in general and Skellan in particular, Skellan accepts that his carefree ways might need to change to allow him to take on the new responsibilities his heritage place on him but also accepts that what binds Elezar to his belief system is more than a wim.
To counterpoint both the Epic good vs evil and personal struggles, Hale develops incredible settings and an astonishing set of secondary characters from disgruntled teachers to obtuse priests, from a band of young men playing at war to formidable women against which to offset the character developement of her protagonists.
The character development is also masterly done: the story begins with the protagonists as young men – all already invested heavily in the sort of fate dictated by their culture, their society and the heritage imposed on them by external forces – Kiram as the outsider and harbinger of new ideas serves as catalyst not only for the changes in Javier’s attitude and approach to life, but ultimately Elezar as well. Their journey towards each other is underlined by the value placed upon friendship, honour and ultimately the valor of being true to oneself without compromises. In the second set of books – Hale explores the concept of friendship, loyalty and free will even in more detail.
With Skellan coming into great power one of the very first moral struggles he is faced with is the possibility of enthralling his friends and subjects to both be loyal to him and do his bidding during the upcoming War.
Skellan’s temptation to enthrall his friends and supporters and final, courageous decision to allow them free will instead is beautifully counterpointed by Rafale’s arc. Handsome, talented, privileged Rafale, a playwright and former lover of Skellan; is ultimately undone by his own acts of manipulation and enthralling. Rafale schemes threaten to dissolve the very fabric of the mounting support for Skellan for the coming war and it is in fact not Rafale construed popularity and support that ultimately saves the day but Skellan uncompromising belief that each and every person is free to chose their own path including supporting him in the War or not.
Karen : And in the midst of all the huge issues that the characters face, there are some beautiful intimate moments as well, the balance is just beautifully subtle and clever. The pharse My man will stay with me for a very long time.
In conclusion Ginn Hale has created an astonishing tale of love and friendship, of privilege and the breaking of societal rules to stay true to oneself all enveloped in a fantastic world against both a complex set of different societies and beliefs and the looming of an impossible war.
All in all this is now one our favourite series ever and we are really looking forward moving onto the Rifter series and anything else Ginn Hale is going to publish.