ARC (Advance Reading Copy). Nightshade Prequel #1. Philomel Books (Penguin). Published August 7, 2012. 431 pp.
I read the Nightshade trilogy first so I could better understand the prequel, but it turns out I shouldn’t have bothered. “Rift” stands on its own merits, so a reader does not need to have read the trilogy in order to understand it. In retrospect, I should have probably read “Rift” beforehand (I guess that’s why it’s called a prequel). Oh well, live and learn.
“Rift” is set in Scotland in 1404, in a time when consorting with witches or displaying magic is punishable by death. Thus, the knights called to serve in the order of Conatus must be very secretive.
Ember is not happy at the fate that awaits her; marriage to a nobleman chosen by her father. She wishes to become a warrior, and is thrilled when she becomes part of the Conatus order as payment for her father’s debt. At Conatus, she finds that not only does the order practice a form of good magic, but they do so to find and defeat the forces of evil. In order to play a role forbidden to women, she and the other women have to live double lives in the eyes of the church. When amongst church leadership, they must become demure and dress accordingly. Despite this, Ember is happy to be free of her father’s clutches, but soon finds herself in love with Barrow, her handsome mentor. Alistair, a childhood friend who is in love with her, believes she belongs only to him. This sets the stage for animosity between the two men.
Meanwhile, the duplicity faced by the women of Conatus severely bothers Eira, one of Conatus’ most trusted warriors and leader. She has grown tired of waiting for women to be truly accepted as warriors, and is eager to gain power to not only rid the world of evil, but to allow her agenda to proceed unhindered. To gain this power, she enters into a blood pact with Bosque Mar, knowing that he is the source of the evil Conatus was bred to fight but believing that together they can conquer the problems she faces. In so doing, she causes more evil to descend upon the land. Soon, Ember and a small group of knights are forced to flee her treachery.
“Rift” was a good read. Ember came across as showing strength when it came to being a warrior, but was extremely insecure in matters of the heart. Both new and old fans of “Nightshade” will enjoy reading it. “Rise,” the next book in the Prequel series is expected to be released January 2013.