Irenicon by Aidan Harte
Series: The Wave Trilogy #1
Published by Jo Fletcher Books on 2012-03-29
The river Irenicon was blasted through the middle of Rasenna in 1347 and now it is a permanent reminder to the feuding factions that nothing can stand in the way of the Concordian Empire. The artificial river, created overnight by Concordian engineers using the Wave, runs uphill. But the Wave is both weapon and mystery; not even the Concordians know how the river became conscious - and hostile. But times are changing. Concordian engineer Captain Giovanni is ordered to bridge the Irenicon - not to reunite the sundered city, but to aid Concord's mighty armies, for the engineers have their sights set firmly on world domination and Rasenna is in their way. Sofia Scaglieri will soon be seventeen, when she will become Contessa of Rasenna, but her inheritance is tainted: she can see no way of stopping the ancient culture of vendetta which divides her city. What she can't understand is why Giovanni is trying so hard to stop the feuding, or why he is prepared to risk his life, not just with her people, but also with the lethal water spirits - the buio - that infest the Irenicon. Times are changing. And only the young Contessa and the enemy engineer Giovanni understand they have to change too, if they are to survive the coming devastation - for Concord is about to unleash the Wave again...
I love when a book that wasn’t on my radar comes my way and takes me by surprise. This is exactly what happened with Irenicon by Aidan Harte. I had heard of the book, recognized the cover, but honestly didn’t know much about it. When I took a closer look and realized that the main protagonist was actually female and the storyline sounded exactly like something I would normally enjoy, I had to give it a chance.
This book reminds me a bit of K. J. Parker in the level of politics and strategizing that is going on behind the scenes. It has a younger feel to it than I got when reading The Folding Knife, and much more in the way of fantastical elements, but I appreciate the world building, the inter-feuding and strategizing that Harte set up.
The city of Rassena is central to the story and has a history, personality of its own. To understand the characters, you have to understand the city and the politics, the factions of Rasenna. The setting is definitely intriguing. It is based on Italy and Europe and there is also an alternant history take on Christianity where the son of God died as an infant.
A river of unnatural water that was unleashed upon Rasenna by rivals divides the city. The river rules the city and keeps the residents in fear because beneath the surface lies unnatural creatures that will carry anyone who ventures too close to their death. And just to keep the residents on their toes, keep them from feeling too safe away from the water, occasionally, one breaks free of the river and will walk the streets. They are kind like a water based zombie, drowning anyone who happens to cross its path.
The people here are raised to fight. They fight Concord, they fight each other (north side versus south side). The city has two predominant families that are in a constant power struggle. Enter out protagonist, Sofia. She is the last living heir to what has been the most powerful family in Rasenna. When she comes of age in the not so distant future, she is will become Contessa of Rasenna. A powerful position, and Sofia has a powerful personality to go with it. She is a very independent, strong willed character that will fight to find a way to accomplish what needs to be done, and do it. She’s not going to wait around to be saved, she is not going to hide behind a title, she’ll get her own hands dirty and take on problems herself. That’s the kind of female character I like to see and to see her as the central character? Even better. Ideally, I wouldn’t even mention gender, but really, there are not that many epic fantasies that have female characters like this. They exist for sure, but whenever I try to come up with examples, I am always a bit surprised to not find more.
The book is not without its faults. There are moments where amazing feats seem to be accomplished with too little effort/price (not everything is this way, but there are a couple of instances). But the faults pale in comparison to the strengths. There was also an unexpected twist at the end that I loved. I felt like I should have seen it coming, but I just didn’t, which was great. I definitely recommend this one, a real unexpected find for me that I really enjoyed. My main question at the end is when will the next book get a US release? Hopefully that is being planned and this won’t be another series where the US has to wait years to get the next one.