I almost didn't read THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL or even buy it. Magic white horses who have mystical bonds with their riders? A "the only girl" plot? I was thinking unflattering things about Mercedes Lackey wannabes, and even Lackey's take on that can be a little twee.
The beginning was unpromising--girl gets mystic call to magic mountain, even though girls have never been called to this sort of thing for a thousand years. (Don't writers get how *long* a thousand years is?) Also, she disguises herself as a boy during some of the initial testing. Despite this, I sure kept turning the pages.
I had heard that this Caitlin Brennan was Judith Tarr writing under a pseudonym, so even though I sort of cringed, I bought it. It just goes to show that there is no cliche or idea so obvious that a good writer can't make something really excellent out of it.
Short summary: doom is coming and only the heroine will be able to save the country, and possibly the world. But tradition and male hostility may cause her to be rejected, possibly cause her death, and prevent her from getting the training she needs. Additionally, a "prince" from a hostile country is trying to subvert her and seduce her over to their side.
The story has unexpected grit in a number of places that I think would offer a hard transition for a reader coming to this Luna book out of romance tropes, but I found it to be a very satisfying story. The two most obvious gritty bits are a near rape near the beginning of the book and the conflict between and appealing nature of the two main male characters, along with the sexual relationship the heroine has at various points with each of them. It isn't at all an obvious "good" and "evil" story.
I particularly liked a secondary character who is the heiress to the kingdom. She has real power and the willingness to make decisions and own her power.
The horses were also wonderful and very naturalistic for all their godlike powers, which is only to be expected since Tarr raises Lipizzan horses.
So, in spite of an unpromising premise, this is a wonderful book. Highly recommended. I want the next one!--Lynn (20 Sep 04)
I hate to say it, Lynn, but despite your enthusiasm, nothing you describe about Caitlin Brennan's THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL makes me want to read it. All the many pitfalls of the book that you've laid out aren't balanced by what is truly special about the story to you?--Preeti (26 Sep 04)
I have to agree too. I wasn't massively interested in the plot anyway, but description of the near rape and the sexual relationship with the two men vying for her attention was a real turn off for me. I guess I prefer one hero and if there're two, I don't want her involved deeply with each. Except for in the LKH Meredith Gentry series. :-) --Linda (27 Sep 04)
The problem is that most of what makes Brennan/Tarr's book better than any summary is what Tarr does in developing the plot. Since the spoiler-adverse would really be upset in this case, not to mention the romance convention adherants, I'm going to talk more details after some spoiler space.
So, now the spoilers for THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL, (with the acknowledgement that it may not be Preeti's cup of tea) and also that some of what I describe may *really* put some people off.
For starters, I liked the really nuanced nature of who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. In fact, I'm not sure that we have good guys and bad guys exactly.
In the very beginning we have Valeria's mother, who imprisons and drugs Valeria to keep her from trying to take off to the mountain. And yet we don't have the usual cliche of the parents who were mean and don't understand the heroine and mistreat her. Valeria's mother clearly loves her, is a strong woman herself, and wants the best for her daughter. Even in running away, and possibly generating a permanent break, Valeria values her mother and what she has learned from her.
She meets both of the main male characters on the trip to the mountain, and her near-rape on the way has a reality that managed to creep me out pretty throughly and affects her in a way that I found realistic. (She's disguised herself as male through a big chunk of this.)
Part of what I love are the two male characters. The Luna website says "only Kerrec, a senior Rider, and Euan, a barbarian prince, realize the truth as Valeria survives until the final test--and passes with acclaim."
Possibly the strongest thing about this book is how unclear it is who the "hero" is, in the romance novel sense, as in who will the main female protaganist end up with.
Valeria does brilliantly during the few days of the trials but when she is found out, the people who are the leaders of the riders generally think it would be a good idea to kill her, in spite of everything they've seen her do. Kerrec (who also rescued her from the rapists earlier and knew her secret) does manage to keep her at the Mountain, but in a very tenuous position and with no real support.
Meantime, Euan is prepared to seduce any Rider, sexually or with friendship or money or whatever it takes. He's a sort of semi-hostage, semi-visiting Valeria's country to learn more so he can conquer it. He beats a friend of his from his own country nearly to death to preserve his mission. He meets with Valeria and develops a relationship with her and they become lovers. He is her first lover and he is considerate and tender of her and while he is trying to seduce her to his side, he's got a lot going for him.
Kerrec turns out to be a former prince himself, having been disinherited and mention of him banned by his father for becoming a rider.
The plot by Euan's people comes to light as attempts are made to disrupt the annual ceremony that the riders are part of that maintain the kingdom. Valeria and Kerrec are captured briefly by Euan's people. They escape, and are together for a day or two and become lovers.
Here's where we again move away from the conventions of romance. They are recaptured and Valeria persuades Euan and his people to release Kerrec but only by staying with them. There is a heartbreaking part of the story where she has sex with Euan in front of the fire thinking that Kerrec is unconscious from injuries. He isn't, and after he is released he remains convinced that she is a traitor (with good reason!) which makes the her attempts to help further into the story really difficult.
Kerrec's sister, who is now heir to the throne, is also an amazing character, everything I hope for and don't usually get. She's a really strong woman, respected by her father and genuinely seeming to be the better candidate for the throne than her brother who has the calling of his horses. I also liked the uneasy nature of Kerrec's slight reconciliation with his father. I really hope that Kerrec's sister will figure prominently in the next book, which will also resolve a number of things left hanging, since the very clear implication is that while there is a temporary win, all is not well.
I'm really waiting for the next book since the first one did such a good job of transcending genre boundaries.--Lynn (27 Sep 04)