Karavans, by Jennifer Roberson

I picked up Karavans because my friend absolutely loves Roberson’s Sword-Dancer Saga. I was a bit hesitant about this book since the name and the cover insinuated yet another rehashed story about gypsies lightly veiled with other names: i.e., travelers, wanderers, nomads, children of…. whomever, whatever.

I was pleasantly surprised by Roberson’s world, which is different than I expected. The karavans are filled with refugees fleeing their occupied country. The occupiers, called the Hecari, believe that large established groups threaten their control. To that end they practice decimation, where they burn one in ten tents, structures, or houses, and they kill one in ten of the conquered people in communities the Hecari think have become too large and established.

Roberson tells her story through many different points of view in a style where scene and narration weaves around from character to character. Although I loved her style, it’s a little difficult to pin down which characters drive the story. Two characters that are cleverly surrounded by mystery are the Shoia cousins named Rhuan and Brodhi, who can “recover” from death and have other supernatural skills that are hidden from humans. Each is going through a mysterious test and is accompanied by a demon who is alternately babysitter, comrade, confessor, and sometimes lover. At some time, Rhuan and Brodhi will finish their tests and receive — what? Their reward, or their punishment?

As interesting as the Shoia are, the plot is really driven by the pregnant Audrun and her family, who have been told by diviners that they should migrate to another country where she has family. They force themselves into the last karavan of the season, but they’ll have to split from it at a certain point to get to their destination. Their chosen path is dangerously close to the sentient, moving, perilous forest called Alisanos.

Roberson’s story-telling and writing style kept me glued to the book. When I finished I was seriously hooked by the initial story problems, the world, and the characters, but I would have liked more to happen in this book. It ended with a cliff-hanging scene, leaving me with a feeling that the story had just started and I had only been allowed to read a prologue that introduced the characters. The second book in this series is Deepwood, which I hope to read (did I mention I was hooked?) but I’d like more plot and decision points in it.

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