There’s something particularly cool about a big ensemble cast – a Magnificent Seven or The Avengers, coming together to argue, plan, and eventually band together for a common goal and save the day. Maybe these big ensembles are cool because of the sheer range of personalities they can include. We can see characters bounce off each other, feud, and fight, and become fast friends before the big team-up leading up to the climax. That’s definitely what Mara Valderann is going for in her novel, Heirs of War. This book boasts not one, not two, and not three – but five main characters who are thrown together by desperate circumstances and tossed into a dangerous adventure in a magical world. She largely succeeds in creating a nifty story about a hidden magical world, and the five young women who are connected by birth and a powerful prophecy.
See, these young women all lead sort of normal lives on earth, but they’re really the Duillaine Annir – super-powered magical royals from a set of magic worlds connected to our own and based in Celtic fantasy. They all have names like Zelene, Rhaya, Isauria, and Ariana and were brought to earth from the mystic realms to protect them from their enemies, ruthless killers known as Cahrain. The fifth of them remained in the magical world. Pretty soon, the Cahrains are after them, and they all all thrown into the magic world, as the adventure begins.
The ensemble cast is great at putting different personalities against each other. Zelene’s a fiery, tough girl who raised by abusive foster parents. She’s doubtlessly the Wolverine of the group. Isauria gets prophetic visions and has a deep intelligence – maybe she’s the Egon? And Ariana’s friendly and nice. I guess she could be the Michelangelo? She gets captured by the Cahrains and struggles to escape. Though they fall under broad personalities, the girls definitely have well-developed personalities, and they react to this fantastic world in a natural way – comparing it to Renaissance Faires and harping on the injustices of the Medieval class system. They’re all pretty sympathetic and it’s cool to see them meet.
However, the large cast does have its downsides. Each girl has their own friends, often with a love interest, a powerfully-built defender called a Cyneward, and two of them are twins, while the others are cousins. This adds up to a load of characters and connections between characters, and it can be tough keeping them straight. Plus, the countless Celtic names for the different worlds and customs get thrown around a lot. It all adds up to a cast that could be a little overstuffed. Another unfortunate result of the large cast is that it takes a long time for anything to happen – we check in one character, see their plot advance a little, and then bounce to another for the same. It’s not until the very end of the book that our heroines are really getting down to business to fight evil. I guess that’s saved up for the sequel, but I wish this first volume had some more payoff. Additionally, I found the prose – particularly when it described crazy magic spells – seemed a little short and lackluster. I hope that Valderann can take some time and really make a reader visualize and be wowed by the impressive feats of magic contained in the story in future sequels.