Back in August, I featured Auden Johnson and her book release, The Marked Hosts on the blog. As promised, I am posting a review of the dark fantasy/sword and sorcery novel. (Again, I’m late in doing so. No excuses, just the post. Okay, one. I’ve been playing catch up for a few months.)
Contessa Torain is an alien warrior of Noble birth tasked with the duty of meditator: she has to talk the humans out of blowing up her world solely because of a few rogues. Not an easy task and after five years, she’s almost ready for war herself as it might be simpler than getting people to listen. I could understand her frustration and her desire to just be done with what seems to be a fruitless task.
I found it interesting to have a non-human point of view character, especially one that comes from an alien race not-too-keen on humans. (Okay, so they usually devour human souls, but hey… that was then. Now they have Vith, fabricated liquid souls that are just as delicious.) She’s tough, efficient, and takes public transportation.
She saves the life of a child while on the subway (Some readers may find the scene of a child being beaten and thrown around a subway car difficult to read.) only to find out he has a secret that makes him not fully human. Even so, she reluctantly takes him in, determined to find out what and who he is.
World-building is an enormous part of writing, especially in the fantasy and sword & sorcery genres. Johnson pays attention to the details in the worlds she creates, designing a powerful, yet flawed, ruling class along with a race of dragon-like protectors who have their own agenda.
Contessa truly changes during the course of the book, becoming a more sympathetic character. Her experiences with the child and the destruction of her icy world, Devortus, finally pierce her tough exterior and she knows she has to have help to continue. I liked that she wasn’t drawn to be all-powerful and able to do everything on her own, even though she tried to. It made me root for her even more and gave me the chance to spend time with some of the other quirky characters. Saving the world was truly a family affair in this book.
Johnson is clever in her choices with The Marked Hosts. There is evidence of the Medieval feudal system and high fantasy–magicians and sentient swords–along with modern day technology and attitude. The characters had skin tones that ran the gamut of pale to deepest brown, and provided a variety and diversity that wasn’t cloaked in a human guise, which I found refreshing and enjoyable.