With “The Devil’s Concubine” Braden blows a breath of fresh air into fantasy literature that seems swamped with poorly edited stories. I am having a difficult time trying to find fault with it. You seriously need to get this story. Right now (6th May 2018) you can get it for free on Amazon.
“The Devil’s Concubine” is part of a series called “The Devil of Ponong“. Currently there are three books in the series. I want more of them They all have proper endings without cliff-hangers and the “problem” is resolved during the novel. The over-arching story is a political drama set in a fantasy world that carries a Far East spirit. It deals with some of the consequences of having your country stolen from you. Braden seems to have done her homework with regards to what it means to be “the protected” and “the protectors” in a protectorate. Dehumanization, corruption, blinders, hopelessness and courage are all topics that are shown, not told, in the story. In fact, “The Devil’s Concubine” is delightfully free of preaching, and manages to put a face to both sides.
The Ponong island chain lies between the Sea of Erykoli and Te ‘Am Ocean, a strategic position that grandfather Zul took advantage of. When he was younger, he invaded Ponong and laid her under the Thampur as a protectorate, with Levapur as the capitol. As with many protectorates in the real world, the Thampur sent their unwanted riff-raff to Ponong. They made up the militia, the government and the bureaucracy. The Thampur consider the Ponongese to be uncivilized and barely human. What that means, in practical terms, is that the Ponongese lost all of their rights. They were not allowed to grow crops, to hunt, to teach their culture or language to the young, or to hold any important positions. When we meet them, anger is simmering under the surface. Some readers belong to cultures that have invaded and some readers belong to cultures that have been invaded.
Pongon is a jewel of an island consisting of many people, but mainly the Ponongese who are shiftless humans with fangs and slitted eyes. Being shiftless is looked down upon by shifters. Top dog in Levapur are the Thampurian human/seadragons. There are also the violent Rujicks who are human/werewolves, and the Ingosolians who shift between genders. We meet two other shiftless races on Ponong. The Li Islanders are cattish human and the Ravidians have a bony neckruff and a dewclaw for gutting.
QuiTai is our main character and my favourite person of the story. I would love to see more women like this in literature. She has one handicap, being a woman in a man’s world – much like our own, and is not taken seriously by the extremely misogynistic Thampurians and Rujicks. She is probably the most intelligent person on the islands, but has only been allowed roles as acolyte, actress, prostitute, and mistress. Even though she is considered the Devil’s concubine, QuiTai is the reason the Devil hold top “dog” position of the island’s criminal world. She is feared, despised and hated – even by those who should be grateful for her interventions.
Like a school of jewel-toned tropical fish on the reef, the crowd in the marketplace suddenly veered away as QuiTai stepped off the veranda of the sunset-pink building into the town square. They cringed back as she sauntered through the stalls, as if instead of her bright green sarong she were clothed in poison. She’d decided long ago it was their guilt that made them unable to meet her gaze, not judgment. The Devil’s concubine had nothing to be ashamed of.
Against her plays the Thampurian male Kyam. He is an intelligent male who wears the blinders of the conqueror. As a disillusioned exile he is unable to accept his place in life. He refuses to face the political realities of Ponong and he despises the Ponong for being “less than”. Both of them fight for what they believe. QuiTai fights for the rights of the Ponong while Kyam fights to retain his belief in the ways of the world. A lot of walls must fall for any real change to happen. Where Kyam can use might to retain status quo, QuiTai has to use her wits against the Devil, the Thampur and even the Ponong to even stay alive.
While at first glance it seemed a simple enough request, QuiTai and Kyam Zul both operated in a world beneath the surface. She found his note rather cryptic. Normally people begged her to plead with the Devil on their behalf, but he’d called for the Devil’s arrest too many times to dare beg for that kind of favor. No, Kyam Zul wanted to discuss something with her. How intriguing. If he’d resorted to asking his biggest enemy in Levapur for a favor, he must be desperate.
This is such a great story.